In the wake of evictions affecting mainly informal settlements in urban centres, I am challenging the government and all concerned state agencies to do more towards the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights.
These are rights provided for in our own Constitution as well as in international covenants to which Kenya is a party.
While the country has done reasonably well in domesticating the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and incorporating the same in the Constitution, we still lag behind in staying true to the rule of law.
In fact, there are instances where court rulings have been disregarded by the Executive, making it difficult for victims to enjoy their inalienable universal rights.
This view is shared by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, who have reviewed Kenya’s record and expressed concern over Kenya’s failure to expedite the adoption of laws and policies needed for the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights, including the state’s failure to implement decisions of the Kenyan courts
To date, no serious measures have been put in place to provide social housing for the growing number of low-income families. A large proportion of the population still live in informal settlements without security of tenure and lacking basic services such as water and sanitation, healthcare and education.
We are aware that previous efforts to provide low income housing in informal settlements such as Kibera more or less stalled putting paid poor people’s hopes of escaping squalor and indignity.
What is more disturbing is that forced evictions, a cruel way of denying people their right to housing and livelihood, have continued with reckless abandon. Indeed, many residents of informal settlements live with the constant fear of being forcibly evicted from their homes to create ways for development.
The State is obligated to provide alternative settlement before evicting them from their homes and livelihoods.
To fulfil its own obligations, the State must take all necessary measures to provide affordable social housing units for low-income families and improve living conditions in informal settlements.
Key to realising this goal is the need to pass and adopt the Housing Bill, the Community Land Bill and the National Slum Upgrading and Prevention Policy. It is also crucial to allocate sufficient budgetary resources to ensure the implementation of such measures.
In addition, National and County governments must strive to increase budgetary allocation to improve access to water and sanitation, particularly in urban informal settlements and rural areas.
The State must also prioritise the enactment of the Community Land Bill and the Evictions and Resettlement Bill to comprehensively address the issue of forced evictions. Of great significance is the widespread lack of security of tenure across the country, which private developers have often exploited to deprive people of their right to housing and livelihood.
To end this cycle of deprivation, the State must take concrete steps to guarantee security of tenure for all Kenyans, including residents of informal settlements.
Concerns have also been raised on the State’s reluctance to implement judicial orders, especially where eviction of the poor is involved.
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As a minimum standard, the State must adopt a national-level moratorium on mass evictions until adequate legal and procedural safeguards are put in place.
In particular, the Community Land Bill and the Evictions and Resettlement Bill should be passed and assented to by the President to prohibit all forced evictions in the country as required under international law.