By Bernabas Shiferaw
April 29, 2020
Amnesty International has reported that “Addis Ababa municipal Authorities have demolished dozens of Homes belonging to day laborers over the past three weeks, rendering at least 1,000 people homeless amid the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The report shows that many of those who have been evicted have also lost their jobs due to the pandemic and that after their eviction, “they are having sleepless nights as authorities repeatedly confiscate the tarpaulin plastic sheeting they are using to shelter against heavy rains.”
Amnesty’s Director for East and South Africa said, “Having a home is critical to protecting oneself from COVID-19, stopping its spread, and recovering from it. The authorities must ensure that no one is put in a position of increased vulnerability to COVID-19 including by rendering them homeless.”
He added that “The ongoing demolitions are a terrible act of inhumanity when people have so much to contend with – COVID-19, joblessness, and heavy downpours. The authorities are making a bad situation worse by inflicting homelessness on people who do not even know where their next meal will come from.”
The Chief Commissioner of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Daniel Bekele (PhD), has also condemned the forced evictions writing, in his twitter page, “(such evictions) pose a great risk at a time when COVID-19 poses a great threat.”
The demolitions have been confirmed by satellite imagery. And Amnesty’s report shows that they were done without any notice or consultations which are required by international human rights law.
Amnesty’s report and the Commissioner’s tweet came after news of forced evictions in different parts of Addis Ababa in previous weeks. Evictions were reported at Weregenu and Kolfe by inhabitants and were made widely known to the public by the leaders of Balderas for Genuine Democracy (Balderas), a party based in the city. The City Administration had protested saying the evictions targeted illegal settlements that were using the COVID-19 outbreak as a cover. But the victims have reported to both Balderas and Amnesty that they have been living in the area since 2007.
According to the leaders of Balderas and other critics, these forced evictions are not acts of law enforcement but rather attempts at changing the demographic makeup of the city in favor of the party in power. Before its transformation in to the Oromia Branch of the new Prosperity party, the Oromo Democratic Party (ODP), which had its chairman as the Prime Minister and its high ranking member, Takele Uma, as mayor of the city, was accused of planning and executing heavy resettlements of people from the Oromia region. It was also accused of handing out ID cards from several districts of Addis Ababa to people who are not actually inhabitants of the city – all these in an attempt to affect the results of the election in its own favor.
The critics say that these recent evictions are also a continuation of this scheme and the victims are targeted not because they have settled illegally, but because they are thought to be non-Oromo.
Many have also connected the brief detainment of Mr. Eskinder Nega, the president of Balderas, last Saturday by the Police with his role in making these evictions known to the public, rejecting the government’s charge of “violating the social distancing rules that are part of the state of emergency” against him as a mere excuse. And victims who spoke to Amnesty have asked to remain anonymous because “local authorities are arresting anyone speaking publicly, or to the media about the issue.”
But whatever the legal status of the evicted families might be, many observers have been dismayed by the timing of the evictions. The government itself has, as part of the state of emergency it has declared to prevent the spread of COVID-19, prohibited landlords from evicting tenants and from raising the rent they charge tenants as long as the state of emergency lasts. Many have said that the forced evictions by the City Administration go directly against the essence of this prohibition and all other efforts aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19.
Both Amnesty and EHRC have called upon the government to stop these evictions. Mr. Muchena said, “The authorities must immediately stop these forced evictions and ensure that people are provided with alternative housing as a matter of urgency. For the longer term, they must begin proper consultations with affected families on what the problem really is, and thereafter follow due process on the plan of action agreed upon.”
And Commissioner Daniel said, “(although) prevention of new settlement is needed, (the Commission) calls for moratorium on forced eviction of existing settlements.”
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