UN special rapporteur points to ‘grave consequences' facing Dey Krahorm evictees as local rights groups come under fire from municipal authorities.
A woman carries her mother from their home in Dey Krahorm during the violent eviction of the community on January 24.
A UNITED Nations housing rights expert has slammed the violent eviction of residents from Dey Krahorm, calling the January 24 actions a "grave breach" of human rights and highlighting the "harassment, intimidation and criminalisation" of NGOs and lawyers working on housing rights issues.
"It is regrettable that the ongoing negotiations with the residents were abandoned, casting aside a valuable opportunity to reach a just and lawful solution to this longstanding dispute," said Raquel Rolnik, the UN's special rapporteur for adequate housing, in a statement Friday.
"It is now of utmost importance that the rights of the residents to fair compensation for their lost homes and property and the provision of adequate alternative housing are fully respected."
Rolnik pointed to the "alarming" rise in forced evictions throughout the country, which she said were marked by a "consistent pattern of violation of rights", including excessive use of force, inadequate compensation and a systematic lack of due process.
In the early hours of January 24, police forcibly evicted an estimated 130 families from Dey Krahorm in central Phnom Penh, which was then levelled by construction workers contracted by developer 7NG.
But local authorities have rejected Rolnik's accusations, following last week's similar statement from the local office of the UN High
Commissioner for Human Rights, which called the eviction a "breach of residents' right to their land" and an "abuse of the Land Law".
Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun said: "The UN has written an official letter to the Phnom Penh Municipality asking us to continue negotiations with the people at Dey Krahorm, and we respect their request but we could not find a middle way.
"The UN has asked me why we took all of the people out to live on the street, but we told them that ... they will get housing as compensation."
Mann Choeun claimed that only 20 or 30 families had refused the compensation package offered by 7NG, and that authorities had already built a secondary school and were providing 50 free bicycles to residents at the Damnak Trayeung relocation site.
"We should not take a small problem and make it bigger," he added.
In a statement Friday, City Hall took aim at rights activists it claims have whipped up public sentiment over the Dey Krahorm issue.
They have to have a scapegoat. they have to say that the ... NGOs are to blame.
"Local and international NGOs and opposition parties accuse the authorities of using violence to evict Dey Krahorm people," the statement said. "They want to show that they love people very much. But they do nothing for the people."
Mann Chhoeun agreed, criticising those "foreigners who have lived in Cambodia for one or two years" but who only know "only one part of the issue".
David Pred, country director of rights group Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia, who was singled out in City Hall's statement for his "uncooperative" attitude, told the Post that he and other rights activists have been subject to repeated accusations of incitement and defamation in recent radio and television interviews.
"The municipality singled me out for censure in its statement because I have been publicly outspoken about the forced eviction of the Dey Krahorm community," he said by email, adding that the government was "sending a message" to those speaking out against illegal forced evictions.
"This statement, and the more insidious radio talk-show and television interviews that have aired in the last few days accusing human rights organisations of inciting communities and defaming the authorities, appear to be aimed at frightening human rights defenders and chilling
freedom of expression and dissent," Pred said.
Kek Galabru, president of the rights group Licadho, said she was not surprised by the city's attacks on housing rights advocates.
"They have to have a scapegoat. They have to say to the international community that it is not the choice of the people but that the NGOs are the ones to blame," she said.
She added that while it was easy for the municipality to paint the Dey Krahorm protests as a fabrication of civil society, the community had taken action independently of NGOs.
"We support them morally, technically and legally," she said. "But the decision is up to them."