Cameroon: Forced Eviction at Vallée Bessenguè
Hundreds of families rendered homeless in Douala
The year 2023 was off to a difficult start for the impoverished communities of Douala, Cameroon’s commercial capital. Some 400–500 inhabitants of the Bessenguè Valley quarter of Douala saw local authorities raze their houses over 500m2 by the authorities of the Wouri District on 5 January. The families spent their next nights under the stars after the eviction of a hundred constructions deemed “illegal.”
The victims are mostly street vendors, shopkeepers, hairdressers, low- and middle-income workers and families with children still going to school, young people and even elderly people. They had lived in that location since 1982 in both temporary and permanent dwellings made of local materials.
Armand Nouwe, of HIC Member Caritas Douala (CODAS), visited the Bessenguè Valley and reported that it appears to him that they were originally employees of the former REGIFERCAM, which became CAMRAIL, the railway company. CAMRAIL had housed its employees 30 meters from the railway line. Gradually, the populations moved closer to 15 meters from the rails, others sensing possible evictions sold their plots at a high price and left.
Already in 2022, the authorities had destroyed 5,000 houses in Bessenguè Valley, at which point, the Sawa traditional chiefs of Wouri had appealed unsuccessfully to the authorities for mercy. In this second round of destruction, the police used tear gas to disperse angry young people, wounding one with live gunfire. The population’s only recourse against the evictions is the denunciation of solidarity and human rights organizations, as well as the media that have reported the crime. Some inhabitants have organized a negotiation committee to appeal for government assistance.
Announced on 5 January 2023 at 6 a.m., the demolition operation finally began in the afternoon of that day. After the mass demolition, the Wouri District Prefect Guy Emmanuel Tchapnga explained that the eviction and demolition were not arbitrary and that the population had been forewarned. The inhabitants of Berrengue Valley had no place to go.
The prefect justified the clearing for the pipes and drainage systems to be built on the site. The pipelines will allow us to supply gas and fuel to the whole country, he said. Thus, on 5 January of this year, and after months of negotiations, meetings and unkept promises, the demolition took place.
Victims reported that the prefect had promised the inhabitants that they would be compensated upon their removal. Restrained by the forces of the riot police deployed, the victims of the demolition had implored the authorities to allocate them a site where they could shelter and protect what remained of their property. For the moment, these victims have had no assurance of obtaining alternative accommodation, let alone compensation. In the meantime, the authorities have remained evasive, if not silent, on the issue.
The demolition of the Bessenguè Valley quarter was a decision taken by the Minister of Domains, Cadastre and Land Affairs, of the Minister of Territorial Administration in consultation with the Douala City Hall, the railway company CAMRAIL, subsidiary of Bolloré Logistics (USA) and the Cameroonian Petroleum Depots Company (SCDP), which intended to use the land for a pipeline project. The executors were the police under the supervision of the Prefect of the Department of Wouri Guy Emmanuel Tchapnga.
Since 5 January, the displaced populations have been forced to find shelter with households elsewhere, take refuge in their ancestral villages or seek makeshift accommodation in another informal space, leaving them vulnerable to further eviction and dispossession. Since the authorities have not provided any resettlement, they promised to provide them with financial support in the coming days to hold on. But unfortunately, there is no more news related to this promise.
Regardless of the official reasons for evicting residents from their location, their treatment under eviction could be considered lawful only with certain safeguards and preconditions. Forced eviction without prior consultation with residents; their consent; due process; protection from abuse, including the condition of being homeless; other state-guaranteed protections would be a violation of human rights. A lawful eviction must not render individuals homeless or vulnerable to the violation of other human rights, and the state must ensure adequate alternative housing, resettlement, or access to productive land, as appropriate.
These evictions also have severe impacts on rights related to the human right to adequate housing, such as the right to food, water, health, education and livelihood. Cameroon remains obliged to respect, protect and fulfill the human right to adequate housing, having ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) on 27 September 1984.
In addition to violating all these international standards, Cameroon`s current evictions in this neighborhood reflect a continuing pattern of violations of the human right to adequate housing. In its 1999 Concluding Observations, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) expressed its concern at “the reportedly high incidence of forced evictions in the rural areas of Cameroon,” and urged Cameroon “to implement laws and policies to combat the problem of forced evictions, in accordance with General Comments Nos. 4 and 7.”
After examining the periodic report of Cameroon in 2012, the Committee noted:
“with concern the high number of reported cases of forced eviction and demolition of houses conducted without sufficient notice, and without provision of adequate compensation or alternative accommodation.”
And the Committee urged the State party to:
“ensure that the legal framework regulating urban development projects guarantees the provision of appropriate compensation or alternative accommodation in case of eviction, as well as access to remedies for the persons concerned. In addition, the Committee urges the State party to ensure that, in practice, no one is left homeless as a result of eviction. In this regard, the Committee refers the State party to its General Comment No. 7 (1997) on forced evictions.”
CESCR repeated this recommendation in its 2019 review of Cameroon.
Once again, the series of observations and recommendations of the United Nations Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights for Cameroon to implement its treaty obligations and end forced evictions have not deterred the continuous wave of evictions in Cameroon.
Despite this impunity, HIC Member Humanitas Solidaris joined HLRN on 29 January to launch an Urgent Action appeal [FR] for solidarity with the victims of Berrengue Valley. It echoes the demands of the affected community, urging the authorities to:
- Immediately cease mass evictions and demolitions occurring in this neighborhood;
- Proceed with the compensation and resettlement of populations who have already left the neighborhood and who find themselves homeless.
- Proceed with the compensation of persons holding land titles and building permits.
- Take urgent action to ensure adequate alternative housing;
- Engage in frank dialogue with affected communities in accordance with human rights principles, especially CESCR General Comment No. 7;
- Uphold their obligations under international law and respect the right of all its citizens to legal protection of their human rights, including adequate housing, participation and expression; and full reparations grant them reparations for gross violations such as forced evictions.
What You Can Do
You can still join this call for responsible development and respect for the right to adequate housing, by immediately sending your letter of protest to the Cameroonian authorities responsible. Just go to the HLRN Urgent Actions page and click Support for this case.
Photo: Residents of the Bessenguè Valley in the process of eviction with the few belongings they could carry. Source: ACTU Cameroon.