Government Demolished Homes Without Compensation, Due Process
April 4, 2008
People who lived in the capital for decades have been left homeless and destitute, with little legal recourse.
Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch

(Paris)- Chadian authorities forcibly evicted several thousand residents from their homes in N’Djamena, the capital, during a 30-day period in February and March 2008, Human Rights Watch said today. The seizures came during a state of emergency declared by the government on February 15 following a failed coup attempt.

“People who lived in the capital for decades have been left homeless and destitute, with little legal recourse,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “In many cases, the Chadian government failed to provide adequate notification, compensation and resettlement assistance to affected communities, as required by international law.”

“People who lived in the capital for decades have been left homeless and destitute, with little legal recourse,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “In many cases, the Chadian government failed to provide adequate notification, compensation and resettlement assistance to affected communities, as required by international law.”

According to documents from the office of the mayor of N’Djamena obtained by Human Rights Watch, municipal authorities destroyed 1,798 homes in 11 neighborhoods in the capital during the 30-day state of emergency that ended on March 15. Human Rights Watch saw hundreds of demolished structures in two neighborhoods in the capital that were not included in the official figures, making it likely that the total number of homes destroyed exceeds 2,000. Human Rights Watch estimates that more than 10,000 people have been left homeless by the mass evictions. Many of those Chadians who fled N’Djamena following the February coup attempt returned to find that their homes had been destroyed.

Some of those whose homes were destroyed left N’Djamena to stay with family members in their areas of origin elsewhere in Chad, while others found shelter with friends and family in the capital. An unknown number of evictees are among the 30,000 registered refugees living at the Maltam refugee camp in northern Cameroon, which was established by the United Nations to accommodate civilians who fled the fighting in the capital on February 2-3. Human Rights Watch spoke with seven Chadians in Maltam camp who said they had been forcibly evicted from their homes. Human Rights Watch also observed approximately 50 displaced persons camping near the ruins of their homes in the capital. The Chadian government has not established resettlement camps for those it has made homeless, nor has it provided for the needs of vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly, as is required by international law.

Chadian government officials justified the mass evictions on the grounds that the neighborhoods slated for demolition were illegally situated on state-owned land. A government-controlled newspaper also reported that the land was needed to make way for infrastructure projects, including a massive horse-racing track. Article 41 of Chad’s Constitution prohibits the seizure of private property except in cases of urgent public need.

“The government’s demolition of these homes could only be justified in the most exceptional circumstances,” said Gagnon. “Forced evictions should be carried out in accordance with the law, based on a clearly identified public interest, with the rights of the affected communities protected, which didn’t happen here.”

Officials from the city of N’Djamena had been engaged in protracted litigation to evict residents living in the neighborhoods of Gardolé, Walia Angosso, and Rue de Cars, supposedly to make way for a maternity hospital, but in most cases affected communities were not given adequate time to contest the evictions before their neighborhoods were reduced to rubble. According to official figures, 591 homes were destroyed in those three neighborhoods, which were expropriated under the terms of a February 22 presidential decree. Another 1,201 homes were destroyed in eight other N’Djamena neighborhoods, including Sara de Gaulles, Abéna, Darassalam, Goz Ator, Moural Carré 1, Marché al Addala, Marché Atrone, and Badigeonnée, none of which was formally expropriated, as required by Chad’s 1967 Land Law. Human Rights Watch noted the widespread destruction of homes in two other neighborhoods that were not included in the government’s tally of demolished homes, Farcha and Diguel Tanneur, neither one of which was formally expropriated.

Forced evictions from homes in the 10 neighborhoods that were not formally expropriated appear to have been carried out in an ad hoc, uncoordinated fashion. Human Rights Watch obtained copies of ownership documents from 15 residents whose homes were destroyed in Goz Ator and Diguel Tanneur. In each case, an attorney familiar with land-ownership requirements in Chad affirmed that the documents demonstrated legitimate title, suggesting that the government had done little to ascertain what rights people had to the land in these areas before evicting them. A homeowner in Goz Ator showed Human Rights Watch a January 2008 document from an inspector at the Ministry of Territorial Administration approving expansion plans to a home that was reduced to rubble less than a month later.

In some cases, neighborhoods slated for destruction were identified in ads that appeared in a government-controlled newspaper, but government officials generally failed to ensure that affected communities were adequately informed or consulted about pending evictions. Municipal workers typically delivered eviction notices to residents by painting the date of demolition on an external wall; in some instances, notification consisted of no more than a red or black X. Others who said they received insufficient notice were able to save their possessions but did not have enough time to recover timbers, doors, zinc roofing sheets and other building materials that could have been used to construct new homes elsewhere.

Some victims of forced evictions who spoke with Human Rights Watch said they received no notification before their homes were destroyed, but most said the government gave them between two and four weeks to collect their belongings. In the case of a 36-year-old man who spoke to Human Rights Watch beside the ruins of the house he was born in, the 30-day notification provided by municipal workers was inaccurate.

“They were supposed to come on February 22, but they came on February 20,” he said. “They came early in the morning with soldiers and three bulldozers. They said they would destroy my house with me in it. I lost everything.”

Chad’s 1967 Land Law prohibits deprivation of ownership without due process, and stipulates that the state may take possession of expropriated properties only 15 days after the payment of compensation. The UN Comprehensive Human Rights Guidelines on Development-Based Displacement also urges governments to arrange for fair compensation in advance of any eviction. The Chadian government has allocated 2.7 billion CFA (US$6 million) in compensation funds so far, but only for the residents of Gardolé, Walia Angosso, and Rue de Cars. It is not known if any residents in these three neighborhoods have actually received compensation. N’Djamena’s mayor, Mahamat Zène Bada, has promised that all of those forcibly evicted will eventually be compensated, but to date the Chadian government has not allocated any compensation funds for the residents of the 10 affected neighborhoods that were not formally expropriated.

Chad is a party to both the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and is obliged to protect its citizens from arbitrary or unlawful interference with their home and family, as well as take steps to realize the right to adequate housing. Forced evictions violate both of these basic obligations.

“The Chadian government should put in place a procedure for evictions that is in conformity with UN human rights standards,” said Gagnon. “The government should consult with the affected communities on all feasible alternatives before any evictions and ensure legal remedies are available.”

In addition, the government should ensure market value compensation for anyone who has a legal claim to ownership and implement clear procedures for the resettlement of evictees. Relocation sites should be established, complete with adequate basic services and which allow the possibility for the relocated persons to earn a living and for children to go to school.

The international community should press Chad to take these steps.

For the purposes of international law, the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights defines forced eviction as “the permanent or temporary removal against their will of individuals, families and/or communities from the homes and/or land which they occupy, without the provision of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protection.”

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