Security forces in Kampot Province, southern Cambodia this week forcibly evicted around 300 families and burnt their homes to the ground.
Around 100 soldiers, police, military police and Forestry Administration officials took part in the forced eviction in Anlong Krom village in the Chhuk District.
The largest group present belonged to Brigade 31 of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. It has been reported that they were carrying firearms including AK47s and handguns.
Around 130 houses, mostly thatched huts built with straw and leaves, were burnt down on 17 November, leaving homeless families spending the night in the open. Many slept on the ashes of their homes. The security forces burnt down the remaining 170 houses the following day.
“The immediate priority is for authorities to provide emergency relief, including adequate shelter, food, clean water and medical assistance to the homeless families from Anlong Krom village. Then the government needs to ensure they have access to adequate alternative accommodation and compensation, and conduct a full inquiry into how they lost their homes,” said Brittis Edman, Amnesty International's Cambodia researcher.
Amnesty International has learnt that members of the mixed force beat and kicked many of the villagers. Three people had to be taken to hospital for their injuries.
At no time during the two days were villagers or human rights monitors shown any documentation providing for the legal basis for the eviction.
"There was no prior notice, no eviction order, no court decision. This eviction speaks volumes about the state of rule of law in Cambodia," said Brittis Edman.
According to human rights monitors, the local authorities claim that the village is an illegal settlement; poor farmers have settled on the land there, which they thought was vacant. Some families have told human rights workers they moved onto the land up to six years ago, while others have settled there more recently. Many of the settlers are believed to have been landless and the community in Anlong Krom was living in poverty.
At least 3,100 families, or approximately 15,000 people, have been affected by forced evictions in Cambodia so far this year. Some 150,000 Cambodians are known to be living at risk of forced eviction in the wake of land disputes, land grabbing, agro-industrial and urban redevelopment projects.
The Cambodian government has an obligation under international law to protect the population against forced evictions. Whether they are owners, renters or illegal settlers, everyone should possess a degree of security of tenure which guarantees legal protection against forced eviction, harassment and other threats. The prohibition on forced evictions does not, however, apply to evictions carried out by force in accordance with the law and in conformity with international human rights law.
Amnesty International is urging the Cambodian authorities to end all forced evictions and declare and introduce a moratorium for all mass evictions until legislative and policy measures are in place to ensure that evictions are conducted only in full compliance with international human rights laws and standards.