Reference to Communities as ‘Illegal’ Disputed

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.



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