Cambodia burns homes of the poor

Homes set ablaze during forced eviction at Mittapheap 4 village, Cambodia, 20 April 2007

Homes set ablaze during forced eviction at Mittapheap 4 village, Cambodia, 20 April 2007

© Licadho

11 February 2008

"Before, we did some farming… I was able to feed my seven children. Now there is nothing."

"Vireak" and his seven children became homeless on 20 April 2007. That day, most of the village of Mittapheap 4 in the coastal town of Sihanoukville in Cambodia was burned to the ground by law enforcement and military officers, forcibly evicting more than 100 families. Months later, Vireak still lives under a tarpaulin on the roadside.

Vireak's situation is mirrored countless times across the country as land grabs, landlessness, and disputes spread further and faster. Like thousands of other victims of forced eviction in Cambodia, Vireak and his neighbours were never consulted before the eviction and were given no formal notice.

The underlying land dispute was not settled before the village was demolished. International human rights standards say that forced eviction must be a measure of last resort. The authorities violated this.

The Cambodian authorities follow a pattern of behaviour, using the court system as a means to stop and silence activists seeking to defend their homes and lands. A growing number of residents and human rights activists are imprisoned across the country, including in Sihanoukville.

Following the loss of their homes, 13 of Vireak’s neighbours were arrested and charged with criminal offences. Nine were found guilty and sentenced to short prison terms, despite a lack of evidence. Although they have served their term, they have not been released but remain in prison in what constitutes arbitrary detention, pending the hearing of a prosecution appeal.

Most of the Mittapheap 4 villagers were subsistence farmers, beach vendors and small-scale fishermen. The loss of access to a means of supporting themselves and their families means that they risk sinking still further into already entrenched poverty.

Sopheap, an elderly widow, told Amnesty International: “My son was arrested and beaten up while he was collecting belongings from the house. Before, he went fishing and farming. Now who can I rely on?”

The Cambodian government has adopted policies, supported by its international donors, aimed at developing and improving the lives of the poor. But such policies are in stark contrast to the realities experienced by Vireak, Sopheap and other victims of forced evictions, who sink deeper into poverty through the actions of the authorities.

As seen in Mittapheap 4, instead of protecting the population against forced evictions, government representatives are often involved in arbitrarily expropriating land from marginalized people living in poverty.

As long as this situation is allowed to continue, thousands of Cambodians will remain under threat – not only in Sihanoukville and other urban centres, but increasingly in rural areas also. Forced evictions are recognized by the UN as a gross violation of human rights.

A declared end to all forced evictions would send a clear signal that the government is intent on tackling land grabbing, landlessness and land disputes, while upholding its obligation to protect the right to an adequate standard of living as a foundation for its intention to develop the lives of Cambodia’s poor.

Names of individuals have been changed.

Cambodia: Rights razed: Forced evictions in Cambodia

Index Number: ASA 23/002/2008
Date Published: 11 February 2008
Categories: Cambodia

This report shows how, contrary to Cambodia’s obligations under international human rights law, those affected by evictions have had no opportunity for genuine participation and consultation beforehand. Information on planned evictions and on resettlement packages has been incomplete and inaccurate. The lack of legal protection from forced eviction, and lack of regulation of existing standards has left an accountability gap which increases the vulnerability of marginalized people, particularly those living in poverty, to human rights abuses including forced evictions.

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