(Johannesburg) – The Angolan government should immediately take measures to protect the fundamental human rights of people forcibly evicted to make way for public infrastructure projects, Human Rights Watch said today.
Plans to evict an estimated 3,500 people in Lubango without having due regard for their rights is of special concern, Human Rights Watch said. The similar forced eviction of more than 20,000 people from the same city in 2010 had dire consequences. Angolan authorities should ensure that relocation and resettlement for public infrastructure projects respects international human rights standards, Human Rights Watch said.
“The need for public infrastructure works is no excuse for trampling on people’s basic rights. Promotion of the public good and respect for human rights are, and should always be, mutually compatible,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government has the obligation at a minimum to respect due procedure, to inform people affected well in advance, and to ensure availability of alternative housing with basic infrastructure and services.”
In Lubango city, in the southern Angolan province of Huila, 750 families – an estimated 3,500 people – are threatened with imminent demolition of their houses and forced eviction to rural areas. On June 29, 2011, the local administration ordered the residents of Lubango’s Arco Iris neighborhood to leave their houses by August 1, to clear the area for a new road project. The deadline was later extended to August 25, but no provision was made to allow the residents to challenge the order. The resettlement area in Tchitunho, 15 kilometers from Lubango city, doesn’t have basic infrastructure and services such as water, power, health services or schools.
The residents are supposed to leave their homes and build new ones under time pressure, without any financial or material assistance from the government, Human Rights Watch said. Since it made the June 29 announcement, the local administration has not responded to any of the residents’ requests for further information. Moreover, there is no indication that farmers on the relocation site, who were cultivating the land there before, were duly compensated or given any advance notice of the requisition of their land. In 2010, Huila provincial authorities forcibly evicted an estimated 25,000 Lubango city residents and sent them to rural resettlement areas under similar conditions. Many of the forcibly evicted are still waiting for government assistance.
In 2010 the government had contended that it must urgently carry out these removals and resettlement programs so it could complete infrastructure projects, such as the re-opening of a railway line, a city beautification project and now the opening of a new road. However, more than a year later, very little sign of the announced projects has materialized.
Meanwhile, many residents forcibly evicted in March and September of 2010 still haven’t received the minimal material assistance that the government had promised, such as tents for temporary shelters and sand for manual mud-brick production. Due to the distance of resettlement areas from Lubango city, many of those evicted have lost their employment or income from trading at urban markets. Basic infrastructure and services remain insufficient to cover the needs of the thousands of people stranded in the resettlement areas.
A resident of Arco Iris neighborhood told Human Rights Watch that a resident commission linked to the ruling party has tried to convince the residents to leave their houses quickly, without any guarantees of further assistance. “We want the authorities to explain publicly why we have to leave our houses and if the place where they want us to move has conditions for us to live, before we agree to go anywhere,” he said.
A local human rights activist told Human Rights Watch, speaking of the resettlement area, “As for now, there is nothing there but bushes and dirt roads.”
Residents and human rights activists told Human Rights Watch that the Arco Iris resident commission recently told them that that the demolitions may be delayed beyond August 25. However, the authorities have not given the residents any official information about their plans or any guarantee of due process.
In October 2010, Human Rights Watch visited the resettlement areas of Tchavola and Tchimiuka, where over 20,000 residents had been forcibly moved from Lubango after their houses were destroyed. Many people evicted in September, including elderly people and children, were still living in improvised shelters or under open skies, desperately clearing the bushes and producing mud bricks to build a house before the rainy season.
Local security officers tried to prevent a Human Rights Watch researcher from talking to the residents “without authorization from the authorities.” Local journalists also reported that they have been intimidated to discourage them from covering forced evictions and reporting about social problems such as aggravated poverty among residents and farmers caused by the evictions.
The forced evictions in March 2010 by Huila provincial authorities and police forces moved 3,000 families who had been living along the railway line to the rural resettlement area Tchavola, causing a humanitarian emergency. The evictions were carried out during the rainy season, and thousands of people – including vulnerable elderly people and children – were exposed to the rain without shelter.
After massive criticism from civil society groups and visits by parliamentary commissions, the parliament ordered a moratorium on evictions until the end of the year, and the minister of territorial administration, Bornito de Sousa, offered a public apology to the victims. Nevertheless, in September and October, local authorities forcibly evicted another 1,500 families from the Lubango city center.
“The authorities should pay serious attention to the humanitarian crisis caused by the past forced evictions, to avoid more unnecessary suffering of the most vulnerable people,” Bekele said. “Obstructing human rights activists and journalists from monitoring forced evictions only shows that the government has something to hide.”
Angola’s laws do not give adequate protection against forced eviction, nor do they protect the right to adequate housing, Human Rights Watch said. Under international law a“forced eviction” is 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. Forced evictions are well established as a fundamental violation of international law and are deemed to be a gross violation of human rights law. Forced evictions result in violations of many rights protected by treaties to which Angola is a party, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. The UN has developed specific guidelines for states on development-based displacement for states to follow when embarking upon projects such as that which the Angolan government is pursuing.
Since the end of the civil war in 2002, the Angolan government has a history of conducting abusive forced evictions, some of which were carried out in the capital, Luanda. In 2007 Human Rights Watch published a joint report with SOS Habitat, “They Pushed Down the Houses: Forced Evictions and Insecurity of Tenure for Luanda’s Urban Poor,” that documents 18 mass evictions in Luanda carried out between 2002 and 2006, which also affected some 20,000 people in total.