The government’s draft strategy for relocating poor urban communities should be rewritten to remove all references to those communities as “illegal,” housing rights activists said in a statement last week.
In a joint position paper, eight housing rights organizations asked for a longer public consultation period for the so-called draft circular titled, “Resolution of illegal temporary settlements in city and urban areas,” which would guide officials in conducting the evictions and resettlements of poor communities.
“Our key and overarching concern is that the draft circular starts from the assumption that all 569 identified urban poor communities are illegal,” the paper states. “If this is not rectified, there is a fear that the circular will be little more than a mechanism for relocation or forced eviction of poor communities.”
The paper was endorsed by Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia, Licadho, the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions, Community Legal Education Center, Community Managed Development Partners, Housing Rights Taskforce, the NGO Forum on Cambodia and Sahmakum Teang Tnaut.
According to a copy of the draft circular, Phnom Penh was previously home to 569 “illegal” communities. “More than 300 of the 569 illegal settlement communities in the capital have been resolved so far,” the draft reads.
The NGOs suggested those figures might have come from a 2003 survey conducted by anti-poverty group Solidarity for the Urban Poor Federation in cooperation with the municipality, which identified 569 “urban poor settlements,” of which 300 had received some upgrading.
“At no point in that survey were communities identified as either legal or illegal,” the NGOs said. “In fact, 497 of the 569 communities were recorded as being settled between 1979 and 1990, suggesting they are certainly not ‘temporary.’”
The NGOs also said the circular lacked information on compensation for evicted communities, and fails to provide protection for renters inside those communities.
The Ministry of Land Management has scheduled a meeting this week for NGO representatives to express their opinions on the draft circular, which was released Dec 4.
In their joint paper, the NGOs asked for the consultation period to be extended into 2010. “We are concerned that the current consultation period may be too short for civil society and the public to participate effectively,” they said.
Nonn Theany, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Land Management, said yesterday by telephone that it was impossible to extend the consultation period.
“We cannot extend the time for the consultation because we have to submit the document to the Council of Ministers. A delay would not help anything. We all know the problem; that’s why we cannot delay the consultation,” she said.
When asked how the government defined communities as illegal, Ms Theany said they were all located on state land. “In the past, those communities were called anarchic constructions; now those communities are called temporary construction.”
Deputy Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Mann Chhoeun said yesterday the government only wants to help the communities cited in the circular.
“The local authorities have compiled these 569 communities for development. The objective…is to raise the [residents’] standard of living,” he said.