Thursday, August 6, 2009

Cambodia's Shanty Evictions Roll On

WASHINGTON, Aug 5 ( - The 60 low-income families forced to abandon their homes in Phnom Penh's "Group 78" are just the latest victims in a string of mass evictions carried out by the Cambodian government in recent years, say international observers.< What's the Story?

In mid-July, security officers entered the settlement to remove the final families that had refused to accept a government compensation offer that was widely considered inadequate and did not include any access to new land -- a key necessity for low-income families. Seven families held out an extra day, but eventually left the area as government workers dismantled homes around them.

Amnesty International monitors say the Cambodian government has been harassing the families for over three years, pressuring them to leave the area that is considered valuable real estate near two key rivers.

People have been living in the riverfront area since the early 1980s and have applied for land titles several times over the last few years. But Cambodian authorities have ignored these land ownership claims while forcing families out of the area. A final eviction notice was issued to residents of the district in April 2009, an order which goes against international law prohibiting forced evictions, according to Amnesty International.

In a series of meetings following the notice, officials warned residents that their homes would be demolished by military and police forces if they did not leave. A local commission has yet to make a decision on who owns the rights to the disputed land, and the options for accommodation and compensation were characterized as "inadequate" by Amnesty International monitors.

"Group 78 was clearly cut off from due process and denied justice," said Brittis Edman, Amnesty International's Cambodia researcher. "The Municipality of Phnom Penh made no attempts to properly consult with the affected community or explore any feasible alternative to eviction." [See the full statement from Amnesty International below.]

Squeezing out the Poor in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh's shanty towns have been a refuge over the last two decades for families who need to survive on a few dollars a day. Some people have lived in areas like Group 78 for more than 10 years, which gives them a strong legal claim to own their property, noted the BBC news service. But the government has refused to grant these families the right to the land.

"The official line is that the evictions are necessary for the development of the city," said the BBC report. But as the residents are forced out, property developers move in to build expensive apartments and shopping centers in and around Phnom Penh. By virtue of Group 78's proximity to the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers, it is considered some of the most valuable land in the capital city.

Cambodian authorities have threatened the residents of Group 78 with eviction for three years without following any of the safeguards required under international law, said Amnesty International. No land was included in the compensation offer and many of the residents -- pushed out to make room for tourists, government officials, and the wealthy -- are unsure where they will go.

The World Bank, European Union, and a number of international embassies in Phnom Penh issued a statement condemning the forced evictions, saying actions like it are "creating uncertainty for, and putting at risk the livelihoods of, thousands of poor people living in disputed urban areas."

Life After Eviction

In past cases, low-income families evicted from their land often found conditions at government-provided resettlement sites much worse than those of their old homes. In 2006, families were relocated outside of the city, far from markets or schools, and had "no running water, mains electricity or sewage," reported the BBC.

Last year, around 300 families were forcibly evicted from a rural district in southern Cambodia and their houses burned to the ground. Some of the dispossessed, who were largely poor farmers who settled on the land believing it to be vacant, spent the night in the ashes of their homes. No prior notice or eviction order was given and no court decision was made, noted Amnesty International.

In January, over 130 families were forced to leave their homes in Phnom Penh in the middle of the night, without prior notice. These evictions are proving to be a trend to make room for property developers in Cambodia's capital, and they constitute a "grave breach" of human rights, said Raquel Rolnik, a United Nations housing expert.

"Given the disastrous humanitarian situation faced by the victims of forced evictions, I urge Cambodian authorities to establish a national moratorium on evictions until their policies and actions in this regard have been brought into full conformity with international human rights obligations," pleaded Rolnik.

In 2008, Amnesty International estimated that 150,000 Cambodians were living at risk of forced eviction.

- Article compiled by David Iaconangelo.

Cambodian security forces forcibly evict 60 low-income families

From: Amnesty International

Sixty low-income families in central Phnom Penh, Cambodia were forcibly evicted from their homes by security forces on Thursday and Friday.

The families dismantled their homes after three years of government harassment and intimidation, with no choice but to accept inadequate compensation rather than have their homes demolished.

"Amnesty International strongly condemns this forced eviction and the deeply flawed process that led to it," said Brittis Edman, Amnesty International's Cambodia researcher.

Before dawn on Friday, at least 70 security forces, some armed with guns and electronic batons, moved in and blocked off the area known as Group 78 where seven remaining families were holding out. Human rights workers and journalists were monitoring the situation. Dozens of hired workers demolished what was left of the dismantled houses. Within hours, the resisting families had agreed to leave.

The families in Group 78 had been living under the threat of forced evictions for three years, with the Cambodian authorities following none of the safeguards required under international law.

"Group 78 was clearly cut off from due process and denied justice. The Municipality of Phnom Penh made no attempts to properly consult with the affected community or explore any feasible alternative to eviction," said Brittis Edman. "This makes a mockery of the government's obligations to protect the right to housing."

The Municipality issued a final eviction notice to Group 78 in April 2009 and, in a series of subsequent meetings, officials, including Phnom Penh's deputy governor, warned the community that the police and military police would demolish their homes if they did not accept the compensation on offer. The community had also received information that up to 700 security forces had been mobilized for the eviction.

Group 78 residents started moving into the area on the riverfront in 1983 and have applied for formal land titles several times since 2006, but the authorities have ignored their applications in spite of official documentation proving strong ownership claims.

The final eviction order was issued by the Municipality, which has no mandate under national law to issue such a document, and without the judicial overview required under the 2001 Land Law. It was issued despite the fact that a local Commission has yet to determine who owns the disputed land. The options for alternative accommodation and compensation offered by the Municipality were inadequate.

[shantytown+in+cambodia+-+Kenvicur+(Flickr).jpg]Under international law, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights (ICESCR), Cambodia is prohibited from carrying out forced evictions, and must protect people from forced evictions.

The Cambodian Government has consistently failed to guarantee the right to adequate housing and protect its population against forced evictions. In 2008 alone, Amnesty International received reports about 27 forced evictions, affecting an estimated 23,000 people. Amnesty International is repeating its calls on the government to end forced evictions and introduce a moratorium on all mass evictions until the legal framework protects human rights.

As part of its Demand Dignity campaign, launched in May 2009, Amnesty International has called on the Cambodian Government to end forced evictions and introduce a moratorium on all mass evictions until the legal framework protects human rights.

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