Group: Gov’t Obliged To Protect Evictees

Amnesty International has added its voice to the chorus of opposition against forced evictions in Cambodia with a new report calling for an end to what it describes as government officials’ alleged implicit and explicit participation in unlawful and inhumane forced evictions.

“The government has a legal obligation to protect people against forced evictions, but what we are seeing instead is that they are colluding with the people who are claiming the land from people who are at risk,” said Brittis Edman, a Southeast Asia re­searcher for London-based Am­nesty International who is in Phnom Penh for a three-week visit.

Government involvement is often overt, she said, as was the case in Village 4 in Sihanoukville’s Mittapheap district last April—one of the three case studies outlined in the report—when armed police, soldiers and military police set more than 80 homes ablaze and razed 26 more.

But withholding information, failing to ensure that people are allowed to participate in development decisions, and “standing by when the law is not enforced or arbitrarily enforced” are all equally unlawful behaviors, Edman said.

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s repeated calls for an end to land-grabbing would become “firmer and very much more credible should he also call for an end to forced evictions,” Edman said Sunday following a meeting with villagers in Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak lake area.

The 64-page report calls for a moratorium on evictions until legislation is passed ensuring that future evictions will be conducted in full compliance with international law. The report estimates that 150,000 Cambodians currently face the threat of forced eviction.

Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith declined on Sunday evening to say whether the government is currently reworking its eviction policy, but said that eviction issues are more complex than Amnesty International is making them out to be.

“There might be some abuse, but it is not always abuse,” he said, adding that only a small portion of the population is affected by forced evictions and that among those affected, many were illegally squatting on land that did not belong to them.

“It is easy to say about forced evictions,” Khieu Kanharith said. “It is not so simple as these people think. It is not like their country where everyone has a land title.”

“We base our decisions on the law,” he said. “If you own the land, you must have a title.”

David Pred, country director of development NGO Bridges Across Borders, said Sunday that he hopes the government will agree with the report’s recommendations.

“We hope the Cambodian government will heed Amnesty’s call…to declare a moratorium on large-scale evictions until national eviction guidelines are put in place which are consistent with international human rights law and its own pro-poor policy agenda,” he wrote in an e-mail message.

NGOs and the Finance Min­istry have for the last several months been trading drafts of a subdecree that provides guidelines for carrying out public evictions, Pred said, adding that it is hoped the subdecree will be passed by April.

“But there are currently no effective legal protections pertaining to private evictions,” he said.

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