Impoverished Cambodian families continue to be evicted despite the Covid-19 pandemic making families vulnerable to sickness and extreme poverty. Following ongoing evictions over the past three months, STT is releasing its latest report Evictions and Relocations, which examines the process of eviction and relocation in Phnom Penh up until 2019 from a human rights perspective.
Mr Soeung Saran, the Executive Director of STT, has called for an end to all evictions during the current Covid-19 pandemic:
“The world is suffering because of the current pandemic and the poor people of Cambodia are some of the worst hit. Many poor families have lost jobs and have greatly decreased incomes because of Covid-19. STT calls upon the Government to show compassion and cease all evictions until the Covid-19 pandemic and its effects have completely ended. After the pandemic has ended, we ask the Government to respect the human rights of its people and to always provide consultation before evictions take place.”
The report found that most evictions were not conducted in line with human rights principles and standards outlined by the United Nations. In many cases, authorities failed to provide a reasonable notice time to communities before evictions. Other communities were targeted with violence or intimidation before or during their evictions. Overwhelmingly, evicted community respondents reported that they wanted more consultation with authorities before they were forced to leave their homes. Many respondent families were also frustrated that they were evicted on the grounds that they lived in an area illegally, but later found out that the same area or similar areas nearby were leased to a private company.
The following evictions that occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrate that the Government is continuing to evict families against human rights norms and against the explicit requests of urban poor and rural poor communities. These evictions occurred after STT’s report was finalised.
On 20 June 2020, authorities brought bulldozers to Boeung Chhouk A community. Although some community members had been consulted, 13 households had no consultation with authorities before bulldozers arrived at their homes. They were only provided with 15 days’ notice that they would be evicted, well short of the 90 days that human rights guidelines on eviction require.
On 11 June 2020, around 100 families were forcibly evicted from their houses on Boeung Tamok lake by police and Khan Prek Pnov authorities. After receiving letters to evict early in 2019, the authorities arrived in the morning without notice or consultation and began tearing down their homes. Some families’ houses were burnt down; others were demolished by chainsaws. Families from the community were aware that they were living on the lake without permission of the local authorities but said that they had nowhere else they could go. Families had primarily moved to the area to earn a living by fishing.
On 24 April 2020, authorities brought a bulldozer to a site in Boeung Samrong, where 18 families live. Families claim they have owned the land since 1979. The authorities argue that the families are claiming land that is state property, but the families say they have yet to be consulted on the situation. One farmer told STT that the “state has brought violence to us, not the other way round.”
While the report also finds some positive trends recently, such as the use of Circular 03, a directive aimed at resolving land conflicts through consultation, other evidence suggests “relocate or else” tactics are being adopted to intimidate communities into self-eviction. In some evictions, police told community members that if they did not self-evict, the police would not be responsible for the damage caused to their property.
The report recommends the Government work towards a more equitable application of the Land Law (2001), especially as it relates to state public land. Around 70% of the evictions studied had been carried out on the grounds that communities were living illegally on public property. The contradictory practice of evicting communities from public property but allowing other groups, such as companies and private individuals, to develop the same area has created a feeling of injustice among urban poor communities.
Evictions are a traumatising experience and the Covid-19 pandemic presents even greater risks to evicted families, many of whom have reported reduced incomes and job loss as major problems they are facing because of the pandemic. Eviction from their homes will only worsen their situations and could force many families into greater poverty. The Government must take action to cease all evictions during the Covid-19 pandemic and endeavour to consult with communities after the Covid-19 pandemic has ended.
For further information please contact:
Contact for more information:
Mr. Soeung Saran, Executive Director of Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT)
Mr. Isaac Daniels, Research and Advocacy Adviser of Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT)