8th October 2019
Between October 4th and 7th, 1098 people from 13 communities celebrated World Habitat Day 2019, through a variety of different events.
The events varied from community to community, but the overall message revolved around the right to affordable housing and the importance of a clean community with themes such as “Clean Environment, Clean Community and Clean City leads to Better Health,” “Clean Housing, Clean Community,” as well as “My house was demolished.” Activities ranged from speeches to garbage cleanup of the community to distribution of books to the children; with each community culminating their celebration with a solidarity lunch. In attendance were community members, students, teachers, village representatives and local authorities.
The response of the authorities towards the events varied. For instance, the event at Samaki Rung Roueng was attended by the Chief of Sangkat who even made a speech and welcomed discussions regarding issues the community is facing such as poor infrastructure, garbage, temporary relocation and lack of documentation. He assured them assistance in obtaining relevant legal documentation and reassured them they would be able to return to their current location, following a construction project anticipated to affect them. However, at other communities, local authorities did not participate in the celebration but rather kept a watchful eye, monitoring the situation and taking note of the number of participants in attendance.
As opposed to previous years when World Habitat Day celebrations were marred by violence, intimidation and harassment of community members, this year is a welcome change. In some communities, local authorities even participated in the celebration and discussion of land and housing rights related issues. STT applauds the efforts of both community members for inviting local authorities to participate – despite what took place in past years – as well as the local authorities for attending and attempting to build stronger relationships with community members. However, it is important to still remember that the communities are only exercising their rights as outlined in the Law on Peaceful Demonstrations (2009) and should not have to be fearful of organizing World Habitat Day events in the first place.
The United Nations designated the first Monday of October of every year as World Habitat Day to reflect on the basic human right of all to adequate housing. International human rights law recognizes everyone’s right to adequate housing. Over a billion people around the world are not adequately housed including thousands of people living in health threatening conditions in informal settlements within Phnom Penh; conditions which do not uphold their human rights and their dignity.
As one community leader expressed “The celebration of World Habitat Day is to unite the community members in cleaning up their community environment.” The community leader continued on to say “The community wants to see an inclusive city and land tenure security for all”.
Communities celebrate World Habitat Day to highlight the importance of housing as a human right. Each event commemorated the 34th anniversary of World Habitat Day, first designated in 1985. It is a way for communities to celebrate in solidarity with people all over the world facing the same circumstances as them and an exercise of their human right to peacefully demonstrate.