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V. International Law and Forced Evictions

International law seeks to protect persons from forced evictions, which has been defined by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights 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.”61  

According to the Committee in its General Comments, notwithstanding the type of land tenure, all persons should possess a degree of security of tenure that guarantees legal protection against forced eviction, harassment and other threats.  The Committee has urged states to take immediate measures aimed at conferring legal security of tenure upon persons and households currently lacking such protection, and to do so in genuine consultation with affected persons and groups.62  Unlawful forced eviction not only violates the right to adequate housing, but may also result in violations of other rights, such as the rights to security of the person and to one’s home.63  According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in its examination of forced evictions in an international human rights framework:

While the right to adequate housing is perhaps the most obvious human right violated by forced evictions, a number of other rights are also affected.  The rights to freedom of movement and to choose one's residence, recognized in many international laws and national constitutions, are infringed when forced evictions occur.  The right to security of the person, also widely established, means little in  practical terms when people are forcibly evicted with violence, bulldozers and intimidation.  Direct governmental harassment, arrests or even killings of community leaders opposing forced evictions are common and violate the rights to life, to freedom of expression and to join organizations of one's choice. In the majority of eviction cases, crucial rights to information and popular participation are also denied.64

The Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Committee considers legislation against forced evictions to be essential for building a system of effective protection.  Such laws should include measures that “provide the greatest possible security of tenure to occupiers of houses and land,” and which are “designed to control strictly the circumstances under which evictions may be carried out.”  States must ensure that their laws are adequate to prevent and, if appropriate, punish forced evictions carried out by private persons without appropriate safeguards.  Existing laws and regulations that are incompatible with the right to adequate housing should be amended or repealed.65

[61] U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment 7, “The right to adequate housing (Art. 11 (1) of the Covenant): forced evictions,” U.N. Doc. E/C.12/1997/4 (1997).

[62] U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment 4, “The right to

 adequate housing,” (Sixth session, 1991), U.N. Doc. E/1992/23 (1991), art. 8(a).

[63] General Comment 7, paras. 5 & 9.

[64] U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Fact Sheet no. 25, “Forced Evictions and Human Rights,” 1996 (available at

[65] General Comment 7, para. 10.

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>July 2004