(Nairobi) – Somali security forces using bulldozers have demolished dozens of informal settlements in Mogadishu since late December 2017, leaving thousands homeless. Human Rights Watch analyzed satellite imagery that shows that between December 29 and January 19, 2018, approximately 3,000 shelters were dismantled or destroyed using heavy machinery.
On January 17, the federal minister for planning, investment and development, Gamal Hassan, responded to growing criticism from aid organizations and announced the government would investigate the evictions. The Somali government should credibly investigate security force abuses in the forced evictions, Human Rights Watch said.
“The Somali government needs to take responsibility for the mass forced evictions of these vulnerable, marginalized communities in Mogadishu,” said Laetitia Bader, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “A thorough investigation should be followed by concrete steps to ensure that all future evictions are lawful and that anyone displaced is provided for.”
Somalia has 2.1 million internally displaced people, half of whom fled conflict and drought in 2017 alone. Many are living in informal settlements in urban areas. Since 2011, Human Rights Watch has documented serious abuses against displaced communities in Mogadishu including forced evictions, sexual violence, and clan-based discrimination. Government and private actors have repeatedly forcibly evicted displaced communities without any redress. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) documented the evictions of over 153,000 people in 2017.
Human Rights Watch interviewed by phone nine displaced people who were forcibly evicted from their homes at the Xaq-Dhowr and Masha’Allaah Center settlements near the Afgoye-Mogadishu road since late December. They said that security forces destroyed their shelters without warning, using threats and at times force to make them leave their homes. The evictions left them without water, food, or other assistance. Aid agency assessments corroborated their accounts.
Residents said that on the morning of December 29, Somali police, intelligence agency (NISA) personnel, and military forces arrived and surrounded the camps and, using bulldozers, started demolishing shelters near the main road.
“Very early in the morning when I woke up, the police, military and intelligence were already around our settlement,” said a 56-year-old woman living in the Nuurto 2 camp. “They came in from the road and started demolishing the structures. One bulldozer was destroying the structures, while the other one was scooping up the debris.”
Under the African Union’s Kampala Convention on the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons, which Somalia has ratified but not yet deposited with the AU, the government is obligated to protect displaced people against forcible return to or resettlement in any place where “their life, safety, liberty or health could be at risk.” The government is also expected to consult with internally displaced people, allow them to participate in decisions relating to their protection and assistance, and permit them to make free and informed choices on whether to return, relocate, or locally integrate.
Some of the forcibly evicted settlements were on land involved in a court case between two landowners, humanitarian actors reported. Human Rights Watch obtained a copy of a December 23 notice from the Kahda district commissioner instructing local officials, police, and NISA to inform people living around KM13 of the Afgoye-Mogadishu road to vacate as soon as possible given the land dispute. The notice provided no time frame or information about resettlement alternatives.
The authorities failed to provide adequate notification and compensation to the communities facing eviction, and did not provide viable relocation or local integration options required by international law, Human Rights Watch said.
A humanitarian assessment found that while some residents had been given informal warnings in the days leading up to their eviction, most had not. Those Human Rights Watch interviewed said they had not received notice, and that officials and security forces involved in the eviction left them little time to collect their possessions and find alternative shelter.
“I asked the man who was overseeing the eviction to at least let me pick up the eggs that my chicken had hatched,” said another female resident, “But he just allowed the bulldozer to scoop up my hut.” Several said that they saw security forces push their neighbors who refused to vacate their homes, and in some instances, beat them with sticks.
The assessment reported that 5,800 households were forcibly evicted – leaving more than 34,000 people homeless – and 25 settlements razed. Another assessment found that thousands of dollars’ worth of educational, sanitation, and water equipment was destroyed.
An independent and credible investigation into the forced evictions should examine events leading up to the eviction, determine the officials responsible regardless of position or rank, including those who authorized the deployment of government forces, and take appropriate disciplinary or criminal action. The government should provide appropriate redress to the families harmed and ensure that communities at risk of future evictions are provided access to appropriate legal or other protection, Human Rights Watch said.
The imagery shows that many people evicted from these camps initially relocated their tents or constructed new shelters in smaller concentrations in the immediate vicinity of both the Xaq-Dhowr and Masha’Allaah Center sites. Residents said that in the days following the eviction, they initially camped out in open spaces or sought refuge with other displaced communities, and they were living without water and shelter.
According to the NRC assessment, in the immediate aftermath most of those evicted had limited access to clean water and sanitary facilities, and just under half of those NRC interviewed had no shelter at all, primarily female-headed households.
The imagery also shows that between December 31 and January 19, several large settlements for displaced people were established about one kilometer south of the Xaq-Dhowr eviction site. Several residents interviewed confirmed that they had received plastic shelters from a humanitarian organization.
Under international human rights law, the permanent or temporary removal of individuals, families, or communities against their will from the homes or land they occupy without providing access to appropriate legal or other protection is considered a forced eviction.
The previous Somali government had adopted a policy on displacement in December 2014, specifying clear procedures to protect affected communities during evictions and ensure that evictions are lawful. The policy has been largely ignored, and collaboration among government bodies – including between the federal government and local authorities in Mogadishu – to improve the security of communities affected by the evictions has been inadequate, Human Rights Watch said.
Somalia’s parliament should endorse the policy and identify line ministries, including the Interior Ministry, that should implement the policy with local authorities in close consultation with displaced people and aid organizations, in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, Human Rights Watch said.
“The authorities involved in the recent Mogadishu evictions violated their own policies,” Bader said. “If local and federal authorities need to move displaced people, they should first consult with these communities and put in place a plan that ensures people’s security and access to basic assistance.”