Two million people live in a human rights black hole in the slums of Nairobi
12 June 2009
Amnesty International released its report on Friday, into the dire conditions and gross human rights abuses endured in Nairobi's informal settlements. The Unseen Majority: Nairobi's Two Million Slum Dwellers describes how half of Nairobi's population live in informal settlements, but are crammed into only 5 per cent of the city’s residential area and just 1 per cent of all land in the city.
The report is the first launched under the organization's groundbreaking new global campaign, Demand Dignity, which aims to expose and combat the human rights abuses that make and keep people poor. In Kenya, Amnesty International is mobilizing slum residents to "demand dignity" and call for their right to adequate housing. The campaign will amplify their voices and demand effective responses from Kenya's political leaders.
"Millions live in squalid conditions, suffering not only from the deprivation of basic services but discrimination, insecurity and marginalization," said Irene Khan, Amnesty International's Secretary General.
"Their voices are not being heard and they are not consulted or even informed about decisions that affect their lives. This is nothing short of a human rights scandal."
The report describes how successive Kenyan governments have failed to protect slum dwellers and how generations of neglect by politicians has allowed such informal settlements to swell, turning their residents into prisoners of poverty. Amnesty International believes that human rights are key to allowing people to break out of the poverty trap.
In the report, slum dwellers describe a life characterized by deprivation, rising food prices, lack of health and education facilities, harassment by the authorities and the constant threat of being forcibly evicted. According to victims, forced evictions are often conducted at night or in bad weather conditions and excessive force is often deployed. Inadequate notice, or often no notice at all, is given and people's belongings are destroyed along with their homes.
The report identifies up to 127,000 people at immediate risk of having their makeshift homes and informal businesses demolished under a government-led plan to clean up the Nairobi River Basin.
Despite a national housing policy adopted four years ago that promised the progressive realization of the right to housing, the government has failed to provide accessible, affordable housing. The slum upgrading programme has been too slow and under resourced. Residents feel they have not been adequately consulted on its implementation.
"Exploited by landlords, threatened by police, extorted by gangs: the slums of Nairobi are a human rights black hole where the residents are deprived of basic services, denied security and excluded from having a say in their future," said Ms Khan.
Amnesty International's report calls on the Kenyan government to:
• cease all forced evictions;
• adopt guidelines that comply with international human rights law to ensure security of tenure and protect people from arbitrary evictions;
• consult adequately with affected communities;
• improve the coordination among the government entities dealing with land and housing issues.
“The promise to deliver adequate housing and services to all those living in informal settlements and slums is long overdue,” said Ms Khan.
• Ms Khan met residents and activists in Soweto (Kibera) and Korogocho settlements. Amnesty International delegates also visited the Deep Sea settlement.
• Ms Khan launched a free SMS number (3221) enabling Kenyans to tell their government what living with dignity and housing rights mean to them
• Ms Khan and other Amnesty International delegates participated in a march of several hundred people from settlements all over Nairobi to demand their right to adequate housing
• The report contains first hand testimonies including the case of a woman who described how she had been made homeless twice, first by a forced eviction and second when her home was set on fire while she and other relatives were sleeping inside. The only item she was able to salvage was her identification card. Another woman described how her children were unable to go to primary school for a few weeks after they were forcibly evicted because their books, school materials and uniforms had been destroyed when their home was bulldozed. In one case, a victim of forced evictions described how he and his neighbour’s homes were set ablaze while they were at church.