Monday, August 9, 2010

Lim Guan Eng must respect International Treaties on Forced Eviction

Forced evictions are usually illegal under international law, yet they are increasingly routine for many governments, assisted by international institutions. Rather than helping governments justify evictions by tinkering with relocation policies, institutions need to steer governments towards true 'voluntarism'. Development projects need to 'sell' themselves to the poor, not convince them to 'move out of the way', and any project that can't is probably doomed to failure already. (

Penang state government under the leadership of Lim Guan Eng has once again failed the people especially on the eviction of slum residents. Lim Guan Eng administration since the Kampong Buah Pala incident has abdicated its obligation to protect slum residents against forced eviction with total disregard to international treaties on forced eviction.

Lim Guan Eng claimed that the eviction crisis in Kampong Tanjong Tokong is due to a federal project. He further maintained that the Penang state government has no power to interfere. By blaming the federal government, Lim Guan Eng attempts to disassociate his administration from the eviction crisis in Kampong Tanjong Tokong. Not only is Lim Guan Eng administration ignorant of international treaties, he also ignorant about the role of his state government in the looming eviction crisis.

Lim Guan Eng should realised that the state government has the obligation to ensure that adequate and effective legal or other appropriate remedies are available to any persons claiming that his/her rights of protection against forced evictions has been violated or is under threat of violation.

The state government should ensure that eviction impact assessments are carried out prior to the initiation of any project which could result in development-based displacement, with a view to fully securing the human rights of all potentially affected persons, groups and communities.

The state government should secure by all appropriate means, including the provision of security of tenure, the maximum degree of effective protection against the practice of forced evictions for all persons under its jurisdiction. In this regard, special consideration should be given to the rights of under privilege peoples, children and women, particularly female-headed households and other vulnerable groups. These obligations are of an immediate nature and are not qualified by resource-related considerations.

The eviction crisis is not confined to Kampong Tanjong Tokong , it has spread to 8 urban villages in Jelutong,
Rumah Hijau longhouse in Butterworth.

It can not be denied that there are occasions such as major infrastructure projects where eviction cannot be avoided. However, evictions should never take place without a dialogue and solutions which are acceptable to all involved parties. If development is consistent with its aims to benefit the poor, then there really shouldn't be any difficulty in gaining the goodwill of residents and convincing them to leave voluntarily.

Squatters have often lived on the land for a very long time, maybe 15-50 years, and they have thereby acquired an informal right to the land. A right recognized by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. If Lim Guan Eng administration held true to the meaning of the covenant, then his administration can not claim that the affected residents have no rights whatsoever.

Whether or not Malaysia is a signatory to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which guarantees the right to adequate housing, Lim Guan Eng administration or Pakatan Rakyat which came to power with the self-proclaimed mission of change and reform, has the moral obligation to respect the international treaties on forced eviction.

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which governs the covenant, has declared that "forced evictions are prima facie incompatible with the requirements of the Covenant and can only be justified in the most exceptional circumstances."

Yet Lim Guan Eng administration is engaged in forced evictions as a matter of routine, not simply in exceptional circumstances.

"Most governments are putting forth the proposition that relocating people from the land they occupy ... is considered a just solution to forced evictions ... leading to eviction-relocation becoming the rule, rather than the exception. (KERWIN DATU,)"

From the way Lim Guan Eng administration handles the looming eviction crisis, it is clear that the state government is trying to create legal excuses for forced evictions, rather than working to reduce their occurrence. Lim Guan Eng administration and the previous BN state government play on semantics, presenting agreements signed by residents that they have been evicted 'voluntarily'. The Kampong Buah Pala incident demonstrated how "coercion and intimidation" were used to force the affected residents to accept the compensation, with the state government threatening to pull out of negotiations.

Eviction has three basic impacts on those affected: physical, economic and psychological. Eviction reduces the housing stock of the city and ruins the economic value of the housing which may be small in real terms but big for the individual. It detaches the squatter from employment opportunities which are usually nearby or even in the settlement itself. It also uproots them from the community which functions as an economic and psychological safety net. The home is the centre of everybody's lives and eviction, often forceful, is a very traumatic experience, especially for the children. While the eviction is a traumatic experience in itself, the most harmful impact of eviction may actually be the fear of being evicted. The fear makes people fatalistic, makes them lose confidence in themselves and discourages them from improving their housing (Murphy, 1993).
If Lim Guan Eng is a real freedom fighter, a real people centric leader, then he should not hesitate to carry out comprehensive reviews of relevant legislation with a view to ensuring the compatibility of such legislation with the norms contained in the present Guidelines and other relevant international human rights provisions. In this regard, special measures shall be taken to ensure that no forms of discrimination, statutory or otherwise, are applied in relation to property rights, housing rights and access to resources.

Lim Guan Eng administration should not hesitate to adopt appropriate legislation and policies to ensure the protection of individuals, groups and communities from forced eviction, having due regard to their best interests.

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