Stop all evictions in Cambodia

Dear H.E. Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen,

I am writing to you out of deep concern for the plight of the 105 families from Mittapheap 4 village, Sihanoukville Municipality who were violently evicted from their homes by the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), military police and police on 20 April 2007. The illegal, violent eviction led to the injury of several persons, including one 77-year-old man who received an electric baton shock to his forehead and was hospitalized. Several men were reportedly knocked unconscious by the authorities and 13 men, including one minor, were arrested.

According to information I have received from human rights groups, the eviction was ordered by the Sihanoukville authorities in response to a complaint filed by Mrs. Peng Ravy with the Mittapheap 4 Commune Chief, the Ministry of Interior, the National Assembly and the Senate, alleging that the villagers were “illegal squatters” occupying her property. Many villagers claimed to have lived on the land since 1985. Mrs. Ravy has never presented any title deeds proving her ownership, yet her complaint led district authorities to issue an eviction notice on October 26, 2006 . The eviction notice alleged that the villagers were living on state public land, state private land, and the private land of Mrs. Peng Ravy. On January 19, 2007, another eviction order was issued to the community, which was signed by the Municipal Governor of Sihanoukville Say Hak. The eviction notice ordered the villagers to vacate the area within one week. It was issued without any oversight by the Court or consultation with the community.

The Senate Commission on Human Rights conducted a thorough investigation into the case and concluded that the land dispute is a civil matter that should be settled by the Courts of Cambodia.

Despite their findings, 105 families were illegally evicted by the authorities on April 20, 2007 . The eviction was carried out without any resolution of the land dispute by the court, as is required by the law, and was executed on the basis of an eviction notice that had been expired for nearly four months.

The former residents of Mittapheap 4 are now living under tarpaulin supplied by NGOs on the road in front of where their homes once stood. Their current living conditions are sub-human and are the direct result of being rendered homeless by the authorities on April 20th.

I am concerned that illegal forced evictions resulting from a pervasive lack of tenure security have become an epidemic in Cambodia today, resulting in the deeper impoverishment and marginalization of the poor and undermining Cambodia’s poverty reduction efforts.

Article 31 of the Cambodian Constitution explicitly requires that the Kingdom of Cambodia ‘shall recognize and respect human rights as stipulated in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the covenants and conventions related to human rights, women’s and children’s rights.’

As a State Party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights , the Government of Cambodia is legally obliged to respect, protect, and fulfill the right to adequate housing, including “security of tenure which guarantees legal protection against forced eviction, harassment and other threats,” as guaranteed under Article 11(1) and General Comments 4 and 7 by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). It is furthermore obligated to protect everyone within its jurisdiction from forced evictions undertaken by third parties including State and Municipal authorities, especially when such evictions render affected persons homeless.

The Government of Cambodia also has a duty under article 17 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights not to arbitrarily or unlawfully interfere with any person’s privacy, family or home. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

In view of its domestic and international legal obligations, I strongly condemn the violent forced eviction and urge the Government of Cambodia to:

1. Order an impartial and independent inquiry into the violence of 20 April 2007 and promptly make the findings public;

2. Ensure that all State officials, including military police and police personnel who are suspected of being responsible for human rights violations, including the excessive use of force, torture or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment are prosecuted;

3. Immediately cease all forced evictions that are not in compliance with domestic law and international human rights law standards;

4. Immediately allow those affected by the eviction to return to their land pending the resolution of the land dispute in accordance with domestic law and international human rights law standards;

5. Return all confiscated property and provide adequate and fair compensation for all property destroyed during the eviction; and

6. Guarantee the security and safety of community members.

Respectfully yours,

Abu Rayhan Al-Beeroonee
Founder & CEO,Shelter for the Poor,

Dhaka, Bangladesh