August 6, 1997
Bulldozers ride roughshod over judicial rulings, leaving hundreds of people homeless in Manshiyat Ayn Helwan
In a dangerous violation of an Egyptian judicial ruling, and in total disregard for the rights of citizens to shelter and adequate housing, Helwan area officials, with the help of the security forces, on 27 July 1997 completely demolished at least 100 homes and partially demolished some 60 other homes in the area of Manshiyat Ayn Helwan (an area within the suburb of Helwan in Cairo). Consequently, 160 families, consisting of almost 700 adults and children, were made homeless, and were forced to sleep in the open air or in tents next to the remains of their homes.
Helwan area officials instigated these actions only three months following an administrative court ruling on 13 April 1997 which stopped the execution of Decree no. 5/1996 on the removal of this housing in order to expand the roads between Ma'skir Kashafa and Mahatat al-Shama'. The court based its ruling on the fact that the implementation of this decree would result in making a large number of individuals and families homeless due to a lack of alternative shelter in another location.
The housing in question was built in Manshiyat Ayn Helwan more than 20 years ago and has since been the subject of a number of ownership disputes. When the residents first began to settle on the land, they paid rent to the bedouin who had been originally living there. Due to the fact that the people settled on the land for a number of years, Decree no. 183/1986 issued by Cairo governorate People's Assembly granted the residents ownership rights to the land. The residents of Manshiyat Ayn Helwan asked to buy the land in question, and paid a deposit set by the local administration. However, unknown to the residents of Manshiyat Ayn Helwan, Decree 11/1986 had already stipulated the demolition of the housing in order to hand over the land to a housing cooperative.
The people of Manshiyat Ayn Helwan contested the decree before the Administrative Court. On 16 July 1992, the court repealed the decree, stating that the people had not seized the land illegally but had been allowed to settle on the land by an administrative error, which had been further compounded when the Cairo Governorate People's Assembly approved the people's ownership rights to the land, thereby rendering the decree in question contrary to the law. Therefore, the people should be allowed to remain on the land.
Following the most recent dispute over the rights to the land, culminating in the demolition of people's homes, CHRLA is preparing to file a lawsuit to compensate the residents in question. Meanwhile, CHRLA's lawyers have officially informed the head of Helwan area of his obligations to abide by the ruling and stop the demolition of housing.
CHRLA believes that the demolition procedures and related actions constitute a serious crime for which all those involved must be punished in accordance with Article 123 of the Penal Code, which stipulates a penalty of imprisonment and dismissal from public office for those who use their official powers to block the implementation of a judicial ruling.
CHRLA also stresses that these procedures represent an example of arbitrary and forced eviction of residents from their homes without any legal basis, which is a violation of the right to housing guaranteed by Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, ratified by the Egyptian government. This article obliges the state to take the necessary measures to guarantee for each individual an adequate standard of living, which includes the right to adequate food, clothing, and housing.
The right of citizens to adequate housing is also reinforced by 13 international instruments ratified by the United Nations. These instruments stipulate the state's obligation to protect the right to housing and the right of residents from arbitrary and forced eviction from their homes, in addition to stressing the state's duty to provide fair compensation for whoever is victim of such violations.
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