Agencies Speak Out Against Forced Evictions

Two more international organizations have thrown their weight behind the call for the Cambodian government to end forced evictions that they say constitute a “flagrant violation” of basic human rights.

France-based International Federation for Human Rights launched a report Tuesday with the World Organization Against Tor­ture, based in Geneva, and local rights groups Licadho and Adhoc, that echoes the call for a moratorium on forced evictions recently made by Amnesty International.

FIDH also demanded an end to what it called groundless charges levied against community activists who speak out against evictions.

“Those who lead groups of evicted communities to defend their possessions are often prosecuted and imprisoned,” the report states.

“When you arrest a local activist, you are not just arresting a citizen who opposes forced evictions. You’re also arresting a community leader…and violating people’s right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” Emmanouil Athanasiou, FIDH Asia Desk program officer, said at a conference in Phnom Penh.

In addition to activists that are “routinely targeted,” the report states that the deaths of some villagers have not been properly investigated, such as the death of a Stung Treng province activist in July 2007, and the death of two Prey Veng villagers who resisted eviction in November 2007.

CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said Tuesday he hadn’t seen the latest report on evictions and activists, but noted that authorities would not have arrested innocent people.

“They weren’t detained groundlessly,” he said.

The government was quick to dismiss Amnesty’s report on forced evictions earlier this month, and Cheam Yeap reinforced this message Tuesday, denying that forced evictions even occur.

He said evicted villagers—who the FIDH report claims are moved to substandard relocation sites and receive little to no compensation—are adequately provided for and given land titles at new homes.

Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun said he hadn’t seen the report, but added that temporary international observers have difficulty grasping the full picture of evictions in Cambodia.

They “could not see the trick of the professional squatter,” who resettle in urban areas after evictions in order to take advantage of compensation packages, he said.

Ny Chakrya, head of monitoring at Adhoc, said that not only do forced evictions happen, but they are increasingly common. He said 5,585 families were affected by forced evictions in 2007, which is a 62.5 percent increase from 2006.

FIDH President Souhayr Bel­hassen said a Monday meeting with top government officials, including Cabinet Minister Sok An, was not without encouraging signs.

“Simply by agreeing to meet with [us] it means something. It means the government is open to discussion,” she said, adding it was imperative the mandate of the UN Special Representative on Human Rights be renewed in September.

“Donors and the international community must do all they can to avoid Cambodia’s land crisis from deteriorating further,” Belhassen said.

FIDH is comprised of 155 rights organizations worldwide and serves as a conduit to the UN and international community.

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