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Wednesday, March 12, 2014
- Wang Jiazheng’s family was sleeping at home when the bulldozers, along with security officers, entered their village at dawn.
While the demolition team was approaching their house, Wang climbed onto the roof, poured gasoline on his body and set himself on fire. He died in the hospital several days later.
According to the new report “Standing Their Ground” released by Amnesty International Thursday, the forced eviction of people in both rural and urban areas has become the order of the day in China and constitutes a violation of country’s international human rights commitments on a vast scale.
As affirmed in different international human rights conventions, forced eviction is the “removal against their will of individuals, families and/or communities from the homes and/or land they occupy without the provision of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protection”.
Forced evictions are officially forbidden under international human rights law and can be undertaken only as a last resort after having examined all reasonable alternatives.
“Despite international scrutiny and censure of such abuses amid preparations for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the pace of forced evictions has only accelerated over the past three years, with millions of people across the country forced from their residences without appropriate legal protection and safeguards,” the 85-page report states.
According to Amnesty International, expropriation and home demolitions in China have risen dramatically, as local governments have been trying to cope with structural budget deficit since the reform of the tax system in the 1990s and pay off enormous debts by selling off land rights, often secretly, to real estate developers.
Moreover, China’s ruling Communist Party leaders defend those who contribute to economic growth, even at the expense of the poorest, as a necessary step of country’s modernisation process.
“The effects of eviction touch all aspects of Chinese society,” Frank Jannuzi, head of Amnesty International’s Washington office and an East Asia expert, told IPS.
“The effects of forced evictions ripple out into the citizens’ ability to start a new life after having lost their homes and possessions and poses a significant obstacle to stability in China,” he added.
Amnesty International is calling upon the Chinese authorities to put a definite end to this practice at the first opportunity and ensure “adequate safeguards are put in place in line with international law”, with proper alternative housing and possibility of seeking redress for all affected citizens.
China’s central government appears to recognise the gravity of the situation, but it does not effectively approach it.
A long-awaited Law on Property Rights, adopted in March 2007, distinguishes the state from collective and individual property rights and provides a uniform domestic legal framework for all residents. However, critics say it doesn’t adequately safeguard civil rights, since it states that forced evictions may take place ‘for the purpose of public interest’, without giving further definition of this notion.
According to the report, the “public interest” often constitutes an excuse for local officials and property developers to increase their revenue and profit. Projects aiming at China’s high-speed expansion of cities and infrastructure often lead to the eviction of hundreds of families who usually are not offered alternative accommodation or adequate compensation.
Moreover, the rights to basic services, such as water supply, electricity or road access, are often violated in total impunity, it says.
However, as of January 2011, some progress has been made with the adoption of several regulations prohibiting the use of violence in urban evictions and guaranteeing adequate compensation based on true market value and not on the agricultural value of the land. But these regulations take into account only home owners and not renters, and are not extended to rural communities, housing rights activists and lawyers warn.
Eviction therefore largely contributes to general impoverishment in the country with the violation of basic human rights, such as the right to health, education, food and water, among others, the report says.
“Chinese who are evicted often must relocate far from jobs, schools and transportation and those who receive new housing do not always receive the proper legal documents of home ownership – putting them at risk of future forced evictions and, in some cases, preventing them from being allowed to legally sell their homes,” Jannuzi told IPS.
Collective protests have emerged as the only way to oppose coerced evictions of people from their homes and turn central government’s attention to the issue. According to the report, property developers and local governments answer such resistance with reprisals that often result in people being injured, ending up in jail or in Re-education Through Labour (RTL) Centres. Beatings, intimidation and threats occur also on a daily basis, the report says.
“In some cases, victims were killed or injured during the demolition process, including one case in which a woman trying to stop a demolition crew was buried by a bulldozer,” the report states.
A string of self-immolation acts in protest against Chinese rule has spread throughout the region. “There have been at least 41 cases of self-immolation in protests since 2009,” Jannuzi told IPS.
Residents who try to seek redress have little hope of gaining justice. “Efforts to appeal, whether through the courts or government agencies, are routinely blocked and sometimes result in imprisonment,” he said, adding that there are several cases of those who do speak out being persecuted and harassed, including the lawyers who defend housing rights activists.