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NGO points to land rights ‘crisis’

ASEAN’S newly established human rights body should take action to address an epidemic of housing rights violations in countries including Cambodia, the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions said yesterday.

In a statement issued from Kuala Lumpur, where a meeting of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights is set to open today, the Geneva-based group said the body should tackle what it called a “housing rights crisis” in the region.

“Tens of millions of people in Southeast Asia today endure various levels of housing rights violations and insecurity of tenure. Most of them are poor and vulnerable,” Sammy Gamboa, COHRE’s Asia Programme Officer, was quoted as saying.

In a submission to the AIHCR, formed in October 2009, the COHRE said that land and housing rights violations had become “one of the most prevalent forms of human rights violation” in Cambodia.

“Tens of thousands have been dispossessed of their lands, dwellings and properties by powerful economic and political forces identified with the country’s elite and their allies in big business,” the statement said.

Specifically, it pointed to the situation at Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak lakeside, where, rights groups say, more than 4,000 families will be displaced by a controversial commercial and housing development.

The statement also highlighted cases of land rights violations in the Philippines and Myanmar, and called on AICHR, which is meeting until Friday, to develop and enforce “additional protocols” related to housing rights.

Om Yentieng, chairman of the government-run Cambodian Human Rights Committee, said he did not have time to comment yesterday.

Meanwhile, more than 200 residents of seven villages at the Boeung Kak lakeside held a Buddhist prayer session yesterday in order to curse the development planned for the site.

Ly Mom, the community representative who organised the ceremony, said it was held so people could express their anger towards the developer.

“Only God as a witness can help us. All the authorities are afraid of the company, so they don’t dare solve the problem for the people,” she said. “We would rather die in the house than leave. We will not go anywhere because we live there legally.”

In 2008, Shukaku Inc, which is headed by Cambodian People’s Party Senator Lao Meng Khin, began filling the lake with sand as part of the proposed 133-hectare development.

Phnom Penh deputy governor Nuon Sameth could not be reached for comment yesterday.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEBASTIAN STRANGIO

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