Forced evictions linked to projects seeking to develop tourism along the coast and, according to the authorities, improve the living environment in Benin have been carried out in flagrant violation of both Beninese law and international human rights law. This was the conclusion of Amnesty International as it released a new report detailing the devastating consequences of these evictions on the lives of thousands of people in Benin since 2021.
Based on investigations carried out between January and February 2023 in the country, the new report, ‘Chased out to plant coconut trees’, details the conditions under which evictions were carried out in the framework of four development projects. It highlights multiple violations of the right to adequate housing, including lack of genuine consultation, the absence of adequate and timely notifications to residents, the evictions carried out in unacceptable manner, insufficient or absence of compensation and the obstacles for people affected for administrative and legal recourses. More than 100 victims of forced evictions were interviewed for the research as well as local elected officials, representatives of Cotonou town hall, officials of the National Land and Property Agency, representatives of the Beninese Human Rights Commission, and journalists.
In response to a letter offering a right to reply, Amnesty International received responses from the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the Agence nationale du domaine et du foncier (the National Land and Property Agency) and the Club Med company. Elements of these replies are included in the report.
The rights of the inhabitants must not be neglected in the name of socio-economic development. Mass forced evictions are seriously threatening the fundamental rights of the people affected in several areas of Benin. These actions have a devastating impact on the lives of those evicted, depriving them of their homes, livelihoods, and community ties.Samira Daoud, Regional Director for West and Central Africa at Amnesty International
“The Beninese authorities must urgently ensure that the rights of those affected by the forced evictions documented in this report and others who may be affected in future by similar projects are respected and protected, and abuses redressed.”
Mass forced evictions affecting thousands of people
The four development projects examined in the report resulted in mass forced evictions and house demolitions without adequate notification or fair and prior compensation and in many cases no alternative accommodation. The Agence Béninoise pour l’Environnement (ABE) did not provide Amnesty International with the Resettlement Action Plans, despite two requests and Decree 2017-332, which obliges the administration to be transparent. In the absence of RAP, information regarding the exact number of people evicted and procedures for compliance with national and international law is fragmentary, but information based on first-hand testimony of victims gathered by Amnesty International reveals serious violations of the rights of those affected.
A man aged over 70, who was expelled from Djègbadji (in the Ouidah’s commune) along with several members of his family, told Amnesty International: “I told them we had nowhere to go. But they told us we had to leave anyway”.
These evictions took place in four locations in Benin, affecting at least 6,000 people. A ‘Marina’ project near the ‘Door of No Return’, a symbol of the transatlantic slave trade, led to the eviction of 234 people from the Djègbadji neighbourhood. At least 10 of them were not duly notified and deemed their compensation insufficient.
One person told Amnesty International that she received XOF 1,200,000 (around €1,840) [from authorities] for the loss of her home. She said: “I can’t call that compensation. It’s not even enough to buy a plot of land, which currently costs around XOF 5 million (about € 7620).”
In the village of Avlékété, where the authorities are developing a seaside resort project, the evictions of fishermen and the expropriation procedures of landowners have led to confusion and accusations of incomplete censuses and unfair compensations. For example, several women from polygamous households who said they had built separate homes from their husbands, told they have not been compensated because they were attached to their marital homes.
In Cotonou, with the aim of planting coconut trees, more than 3000 residents of the Fiyégnon 1 neighbourhood were evicted without compensation, and property was destroyed without proper prior notification.
The Xwlacodji neighbourhood, one of the oldest in Cotonou, was also destroyed in 2021 to enable the construction of an administrative and commercial centre, affecting around at least a thousand people who were not adequately consultated. Members of the ‘collectif des sinistrés du relogement de Xwlacodji’ (Xwlacodji rehousing victims’ association) condemned the evictions stating that “the residents were never involved in the eviction operations. Normally, the authorities should have called the population and explained the modus operandi. But nothing was done to that end.”
In Djègbadji, people interviewed by Amnesty International said that they were not properly consulted or informed beforehand. Firmin Zounyekpe Kouassi, who used to live in Djègbadji with his family but now lives with his brother in Ouidah, said: “I haven’t seen any official documents concerning the eviction. The local authorities only came and told the residents orally that they had to leave.”
In some places, such as the Fiyégnon 1 neighbourhood, the evictions were carried out in an unacceptable manner.
“At 2am, my older brother called to inform me that the prefect was there. We went to meet him, and he told us that he had received the order to evict us, that we had to pack our bags because they were going to come and demolish the houses. People were running around picking up their things. When the rain started, we thought they were going to leave us to sort things out. [….] That day, we wondered if we were Beninese. Everything is destroyed. I haven’t even taken off my roof tiles. If you got in the way of the bulldozers, you’d be crushed,” said Théophile Kakpo, a victim of forced eviction from Fiyégnon 1.
Moreover, contrary to international law, which states that “evictions should not result in individuals being rendered homeless or vulnerable to the violation of other human rights”, the impact of these forced evictions on economic, social and cultural rights has been severe and long-lasting. Amnesty International documented that for both those resettled on sites provided by the authorities and those rehoused by their own means, living and working conditions have deteriorated sharply, social ties have been weakened and cultural references have been lost.
A call to respect legal obligations.
Amnesty International is calling on the Beninese authorities to put in place redress mechanisms for victims of forced evictions, ensure fair and just compensation, and respect their national and international human rights obligations when evicting people. Protection of the economic, social, and cultural rights of the communities affected must be an absolute priority for the government.
“It is imperative that the Beninese government takes immediate action to remedy these human rights violations, ensuring that those evicted are fairly compensated, that development projects respect national and international standards and that adequate notice, consultations and other safeguards with local communities take place before any evictions,” said Samira Daoud.
Since President Patrice Talon came into power in 2016, the Beninese government has made tourism one of its development priorities, implementing the ‘Benin Revealed’ programme, which notably aims to promote beach and cultural tourism. To achieve this objective, many coastal communities have been forcibly relocated to make way for tourism projects, improved beaches, and tourist trails.