The Geneva-based Center on Housing Rights and Evictions has presented its 2006 Housing Rights Violator Awards to Nigeria, the Philippines and Greece for what it calls their systematic violation of housing rights. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA that COHRE says the three countries stand out for their appalling disregard for this basic human right.
The Center on Housing Rights and Evictions reports the Nigerian government has forcibly evicted more than two million people from their homes since 2000. It says these widespread evictions are continuing and have resulted in the massive displacement of millions of people. And this has had a severe effect on health, education, employment and family cohesion.
The report says 800,000 people have been forcibly evicted from their homes in the capital, Abuja. The executive director of COHRE, Jean du Plessis, says Nigeria government ordered the mass demolitions of businesses and homes, including over 49 informal settlements, because these structures did not accord with a so-called master plan to turn Abuja into a model capital city.
"Of course, Abuja offered jobs to many, many people. And, incidentally, many of the people in the Abuja evictions are civil servants. They are people holding steady jobs," du Plessis explained. "They simply cannot afford or cannot find accommodation in the formal, officially recognized housing sector. So it is definitely, in the Abuja case, a sense of beautifying, a sense of going back to that initial master plan and moving away from that area people that do not fit that."
The Center on Housing Rights and Evictions rates the Philippines one of the worst violators because of the government's continued eviction of hundreds of thousands of people in the name of beautification and development. It says the urban poor are the worst affected.
The report condemns Greece for its inhumane treatment of the Roma, or Gypsy, people. It says their communities continue to face persistent discrimination in access to housing. It says a majority live in extremely poor conditions and lack access to basic services, such as water and electricity. It says Roma people frequently face segregation and forced eviction by local authorities.
Du Plessis calls forced evictions a violent act that are in many cases akin to torture.
"Invariably, evictions are accompanied by some level of violence. Invariably, also as a rule, properties are destroyed. But you just have various scales of that," du Plessis said. "If we are talking about the three violators in this instance, all were accompanied by violence. But none of them were marked by violence in the way that the operation Murambatsvina in Zimbabwe was. But, for us that is not a mitigating factor."
Last year, Zimbabwe demolished the homes of some 750,000 people in an operation called Murambatsvina, also known as Operation Drive out Rubbish.
This year, the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions presented its Housing Rights Defender Awards to seven Chinese Human Rights activists. The organization praises the activists for their courage and perseverance in struggling for the land and housing rights of hundreds of farmers, workers and residents in China, at great risk to themselves.