The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Suzanne Trimel, 212-633-4150

Amnesty International Mobilizes Kenya's Slum Dwellers to Demand Adequate Housing

Two Million People -- Half of Nairobi's Population -- Exists in "Human Rights Black Hole," Says Organization's Leader


Amnesty International said today
that successive governments have failed to address the overcrowded, squalid
slum conditions of Nairobi and as a result, the slum population has swelled
to nearly half of the city's residents. In the first report of its new
"Demand Dignity" global campaign on poverty and in meetings with
Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the human rights organization outlined abuses
that deprive slum dwellers of basic needs and turn them into "prisoners
of poverty."

"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 Irene Khan, Amnesty International's
secretary general, who met with residents and activists in Nairobi's so-called
"informal settlements" as well as with top government officials
to urge action on the slums.

The report, The Unseen Majority: Nairobi's
Two Million Slum Dwellers
, found two million people crammed into makeshift
settlements that occupy only 5 per cent of the city's residential area
and just 1 percent of all land in the city.

Khan met residents and activists in the Soweto
(Kibera) and Korogocho settlements and launched a free SMS number to allow
Kenya's slum dwellers to demand adequate housing.

The report includes testimonies from slum
dwellers including 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. Another woman described
how her children were unable to go to primary school after they were forcibly
evicted because their school uniforms and books had been destroyed when
their home was bulldozed.

In addition to discussions about poverty
and slums, Khan, in her meetings with top Kenyan officials, called for
government accountability for human rights violations committed during
the post-election violence of 2007-2008.

"This Coalition Government has a chance--if
it is willing to take it--to prove that power-sharing is not just a matter
of politics but a real opportunity to bring about change for the benefit
of the Kenyan people," said Khan. "Political leaders across the board
must rise above partisan and vested political interests to ensure that
respect for human rights and accountability for past human rights violations
is a central part of all government policy and strategy."

In the report, slum dwellers describe a life
characterized by deprivation, rising food prices, a lack of health care
and education, 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" program has been too slow and with too little
resources to be effective. Residents feel they have not been adequately
consulted on its implementation.

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
*consult adequately with affected communities;

*improve the coordination among the government
entities dealing with land and housing issues.

Amnesty International is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights for all. Our supporters are outraged by human rights abuses but inspired by hope for a better world - so we work to improve human rights through campaigning and international solidarity. We have more than 2.2 million members and subscribers in more than 150 countries and regions and we coordinate this support to act for justice on a wide range of issues.