Adequate housing is a human right. Since Patrice Talon became president in 2016, Benin has seen a sharp rise in the number of urban development projects. Urbanisation in itself is a legitimate objective for a country to have, but the methods used by Talon over the past 5 years have been devastating for poor communities in Benin’s cities. Many have been forced out of their neighbourhoods with little to no warning or support from the president. In this article, we take a look at international law on shelter and eviction, and the risks that need to be considered when a country carries out urban development projects.
WHAT IS THE RIGHT TO ADEQUATE HOUSING?
According to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living. This includes the right to adequate shelter and the prohibition of forced eviction from one’s home.
URBAN DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS IN BENIN
There has been a surge in urban development projects in Benin since the arrival of President Patrice Talon in 2016. These projects have largely focused on the country’s economic capital Cotonou.
CONSEQUENCES OF URBAN PROJECTS
Talon’s urban planning has involved the destruction of poor neighbourhoods and the evictions of their inhabitants. In August 2019, over 160 homes were illegally demolished in Cotonou’s coastal neighbourhood Wxlacoji. Those evicted received no notice, no compensation and no information about any resettlement plan. Since then, nearly a dozen beach communities have been given only 72h notice before being evicted from their homes. In August 2021, a neighbourhood on Cotonou’s coastline was declared ‘illegal’ and inhabitants were given six weeks to leave.
The UN has classified forced evictions as ‘a gross violation of human rights, in particular, the right to adequate housing. Dispossessions destroy not only homes but inhabitants’ social networks and assets too.
There are many advantages to urban growth and the Beninese president, like leaders of many sub-Saharan African countries, understandably wants to invest in urbanisation. But how the Beninese state is carrying out these projects overwhelmingly affects the poorest urban residents and denies them access to the city. If citizens are to be displaced in new urban projects, their rights must be respected in the process.