(Brussels) - In the economic boom since the end of Angola's civil war in 2002, the Angolan government has forcibly evicted thousands of poor residents of the capital Luanda, usually with violence and almost always without compensation, Human Rights Watch and the Angolan organization SOS Habitat said in a report released today.

The 103-page report, “They Pushed Down the Houses: Forced Evictions and Insecurity of Tenure for Luanda’s Urban Poor,” documents 18 mass evictions in Luanda that the Angolan government carried out between 2002 and 2006. In these evictions, which affected some 20,000 people in total, security forces destroyed more than 3,000 houses, and the government seized many small-scale cultivated land plots. These large-scale evictions violated both Angolan and international human rights law, and have left many Angolans homeless and destitute with no access to a legal remedy.

“Millions of Angolans were displaced during the civil war, but since then the government has forcibly evicted thousands more from their homes in the capital,” said Peter Takirambudde, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government’s postwar policies have resulted in the destruction of thousands of homes and repeated violations of human rights.”

Thousands of Angolans remain vulnerable to forced evictions caused by the government’s failure to address widespread insecurity of land tenure. The majority of Luanda’s estimated 4 million residents hold no formal title to their house or land. Inadequate laws on land and urban management due to lack of implementing regulations and the absence of provisions that protect against forced evictions, weak enforcement of laws and ineffective real estate registration procedures put thousands at risk.

“Most of the evictees are poor and vulnerable Angolans; their houses were demolished and many were left only with the clothes they were wearing,” said Luiz Araujo, director of SOS Habitat, an Angolan nongovernmental organization that focuses on housing rights. “Millions of Luanda’s residents will remain vulnerable to forced evictions unless the government takes immediate steps to end forced evictions completely and address the insecurity of land tenure in this city.”

The report provides evidence that forced evictions were neither sporadic nor isolated events in Luanda. Instead, the evictions represent a pattern of abusive conduct on the part of the Angolan government that has not significantly changed. To date, the authorities have neither taken the steps necessary to ensure forced evictions end, nor have they provided accountability for abuses associated with these evictions. The government has also failed to compensate the vast majority of evictees as it is required to do under Angolan and international law.

Evictees told Human Rights Watch and SOS Habitat that police officers and local government officials carried out evictions with brutal violence and excessive use of force. Police officers, sometimes accompanied by members of private security companies, fired shots in the air or on the ground to intimidate the unarmed population. Police often arbitrarily detained evictees, and many of those arrested told Human Rights Watch and SOS Habitat that they were physically abused while in police custody. Human rights defenders present during evictions were harassed and sometimes arbitrarily arrested.

The Angolan government failed to provide affected communities with adequate information about the purpose of their eviction and to consult them about possible alternative solutions to their forcible removal. In the “informal settlements” where the majority of Luanda’s population lives with unregistered tenure, residents were evicted with little or no notice. The government did not ascertain what rights people had to the land they occupied before evicting them.

The government also failed to provide accurate information about the body that issued the eviction order, its legal grounds, and the appropriate body for appealing such decisions. The authorities carried out these forced evictions without a proper and consistent procedure to determine the form or amount of compensation due to individual evictees.

The Angolan government justifies the evictions on the grounds that it needs the land for public interest development projects or that it is removing alleged trespassers from state land. While the government claims that it is trying to improve living conditions in Luanda, it is, in fact, making such conditions worse for the most economically vulnerable by evicting thousands of them and by depriving them of the necessary assistance to help the evictees reestablish elsewhere.

“Many people cultivated and lived in these areas for decades; others settled according to custom, with the permission of elders,” said Araujo. “The government never formally or legally expropriated the land people occupied or gave them a chance to claim their rights to the land.”

The evictions documented in this report were carried out in violation of Angolan and international law. Angola 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 everyone 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 these basic obligations and result in multiple other human rights violations.

“The Angolan government may expropriate private land and forcibly evict residents only in the most exceptional circumstances,” Takirambudde said. “These evictions could only be justified if they were based on a clearly identified public interest, carried out in accordance with the law, and with clear safeguards for the rights of the affected comunities, including consultation, a right to challenge the expropriation, and adequate compensation.”

Unless the Angolan government meaningfully halts forced evictions by consulting with communities affected by planned forced removals and ensuring compliance with all procedural safeguards, Luanda’s urban poor will continue to be subject to displacement and at risk of human rights abuses.

Human Rights Watch and SOS Habitat urged the Angolan government to follow the UN Comprehensive Human Rights Guidelines on Development-Based Displacement, in implementing any future development projects and to apply legal and procedural protections that include adequate and reasonable notice of the date of eviction for any proposed future evictions. The government must provide timely information to all affected individuals that includes the alternative purpose for which the land is to be used, proper identification of staff carrying out the evictions, and the availability of legal remedies.

Human Rights Watch and SOS Habitat also called on the government to investigate all allegations of excessive use of force by police and government officials, as well as of other human rights abuses related to forced evictions, and bring those responsible to justice. The government should urgently provide assistance, including alternative accommodation to all those affected by forced evictions and adequate compensation to all victims of past forced evictions who have not received compensation.

Accounts from Evictees:

“They arrived and didn’t talk to anyone ... and they pushed down the houses… There was time for nothing … we couldn’t take anything out. They broke my bed, my oven; they ran over everything. I tried to do something and they took me. I was trying to get my stuff out and they threw me in the police car.”

—C.A., 35-year-old woman evicted from the neighborhood Cambamba II

“I got here at the same time as L.M. My house was broken in 26 of September, 2005. I could not save anything that was inside. It was 14 by nine square meters. It was finished and painted. If there was anything good left – doors, windows – they would take it. This is all I got left [showing the door knob].”

—F.J., 90-year-old evictee from the neighborhood of Bairro da Cidadania

“I ran to get my wife and my child and take them out of the house. We left holding each other, and they came to beat us with batons. We continued to hold each other, and they continued to beat us, pushed us and threw us to the ground. At the end, there were eight policemen hitting me and my wife, holding our one-year-old baby. Then they threw me into the police car … At the police station, they beat me with broom sticks … They said we would receive 30 catanadas (beatings with the flat part of a catana, or machete) each one. Fifteen in the hand and 15 on the backside.”

—H.J., 22-year-old evictee from the neighborhood of Cambamba II

“We want to expose our situation. If the government wants the land, then compensate us for the purchase price and regularization expenses already paid, or give us another decent location to live, where there are schools and hospitals. We’re not requiring this land, but everything that we have put into it; this is our right!”

—G.T., 54-year-old evictee from the neighborhood of Bairro da Cidadania