A further 160 families in Cambodia are to be forcibly evicted from their homes without being given adequate alternative housing or just compensation.
Two lakeside villages in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh received an official notice on Monday, giving them seven days to dismantle their houses. A private company is due to redevelop the site for tourism and commercial use.
Around 4,200 families living on or around Boeung Kak Lake in central Phnom Penh are affected by this re-development, which is the outcome of an agreement reached in 2007 between the Municipality of Phnom Penh and the private company. The company started filling the lake with sand in August 2008, in preparation for building.
The agreement was made without any prior consultation with the affected families, who since learning about the deal have repeatedly protested and voiced concern about the plans. At least two villagers have been arrested for their peaceful protests.
Company workers and security forces have intimidated and harassed many others, while the rising water levels caused by the filling of the lake, have flooded and destroyed many homes around its shore, forcing people to move.
The inhabitants of Village 2 and Village 4 were offered three options by the notice signed by the Daun Penh district governor: compensation of 8,000 USD plus an additional two million riel (approx 500 USD) to cover the cost of dismantling the houses; a flat at a resettlement site some 20 kilometres away plus two million riel; or new housing on-site but with temporary relocation.
The resettlement site at Damnak Trayoeung has no adequate shelter, water, electricity, sanitation, sewerage, health care or job opportunities.
The offer of on-site development is welcome as it demonstrates that the authorities are exploring alternatives other than eviction. This is also the option favoured by most of the 160 families.
However, according to the notice, they still have to dismantle their homes within seven days and accept relocation to a site far away from their work places and schools for an undetermined period, with no formal assurances that they will be able to return to secure tenure at Boeung Kak.
Last month, security forces forcibly evicted 60 low-income families from their homes in an area of central Phnom Penh called Group 78. 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.
The Cambodian Government has consistently failed to guarantee the right to adequate housing and to 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 reiterating its calls on the government to end forced evictions and introduce a moratorium on all mass evictions until there is a legal framework in place which protects human rights.
Amnesty International has urged the Cambodian authorities to halt immediately any plans to forcibly evict the families living in Villages 2 and 4 in Boeung Kak.
The organization also urged them to reconsider the plan to move the community to the resettlement site at Damnak Trayoeung and called on the authorities to hold genuine consultations about the onsite development plans, including clarifying the time frame for temporary relocation and a guarantee of security of tenure at Boeung Kak.
Moreover, Amnesty International is demanding that the authorities uphold Cambodia's obligations under international human rights treaties prohibiting forced eviction and related human rights violations.