We were dismayed to read about the blatant discrimination exhibited by municipal authorities in the article "Artists' relocation prioritised" [January 8, 2009]. The article reported that recent moves to evict Dey Krahorm residents are being "sweetened" by offering the "most celebrated residents" of the community more expensive city-centre relocation housing. According to the article, the non-famous residents will have to settle for a compensation package worth around US$10,000 or distant alternative housing at Damnak Trayoeng.
The article neglected to include the views of these other residents of the community, who have roundly rejected the 7NG company's offer to them as unacceptable.
It is clear that Dey Krahorm's artist community, which includes popular musicians and comedians, presents a big problem for municipal authorities and 7NG, who seek to clear the residents out of the area to make way for commercial development. Needless to say, the image of forcibly removing the likes of Kong Nai from his Dey Krahorm home would not be a public relations score for the municipality.
After all, the Royal Government of Cambodia reported to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on December 2, 2008, that "in Cambodia, people have the rights to live in their home with law protecting them from eviction." The Government's State Party Report continues:
If eviction is required, the government pays just and equitable compensation for that as stated in Article 44, paragraph 2 and 3 of the Constitution of Cambodia. "The right to confiscate possessions from any person shall be exercised only in the public interest as provided for under law and shall require fair and just compensation in advance" [Para 528].
These legal protections must apply indiscriminately to all Dey Krahorm homeowners, not just the artists. The current residents of Dey Krahorm lawfully possess their property. They have either lived there for many years or they purchased their land from previous residents, and thus have valid claims of ownership under the Land Law.
Moreover, Dey Krahorm land was granted to the community as a Social Land Concession in 2003, following Prime Minister Hun Sen's welcome announcement to provide secure land tenure and to assist in the onsite upgrading of 100 inner-city poor communities each year until all of Phnom Penh's urban poor communities have secure land tenure and full basic services. Dey Krahorm was to be among the first urban poor communities to become beneficiaries of this plan. The intention to provide secure land tenure and onsite upgrading to the Dey Krahorm community was reiterated just last month in the government's report to the UN Committee. The report identified Dey Krahorm as a land-sharing project intended to "help the communities to build houses on their legally owned land" [Para 537].
Despite the strong support of the community and the 2003 endorsement of the prime minister, the onsite development plan has yet to come to pass.
While the community has demonstrated unambiguous claims to their land, the 7NG company has not. In light of the community's clear rights, 7NG's alleged lease could not have been lawfully granted without the express permission of all the homeowners. It is important to clarify that this is not a case of the government taking land in the public interest. It is a case of a private company seeking to acquire prime city-centre real estate, valued a year ago at more than $44 million, by coercing the poor people who own that land to swap it for flats they have built outside the city. Therefore, any eviction of Dey Krahorm residents, as opposed to a good-faith purchase offer, would be illegal.
It is a welcome development that the 7NG company and the municipality have offered the artists of Dey Krahorm a fairer deal including alternative city-center housing where they "can work as usual", but this must be extended to all residents regardless of their profession, talents or social status.
The "few hundred holdouts" of Dey Krahorm are hard working citizens of Cambodia. Like the artists, their jobs and small businesses are also based in central Phnom Penh, making relocation to distant Damnak Trayoeng unfeasible. They are entitled to be treated with the same respect and concern as their celebrity neighbors. This means offering them a price for their house that they can accept.
Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia
Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions