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Burma, China, Slovakia Named Worst Housing Violators

The Geneva-based Center on Housing Rights and Evictions has given its 2007 Housing Rights Violator Awards to Burma, China and Slovakia. The citation is given to governments or public institutions that systematically violate housing rights and fail to abide by international law. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

By all accounts, the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing is expected to be a glittering affair. The structures built for the event are grand and beautiful. But all this comes at a heavy price for more than one-and-one-quarter million residents who have been evicted from their property in the Chinese capital, according to the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions..

The group says mass displacements and evictions implemented in Beijing are a clear case of the illegitimate use of evictions as a tool of development.

Center Deputy Director Jean du Plessis says the government claims it has compensated people who were forced to move. But, he says evidence tells another story.

"What we are having in the Chinese situation is people jumping off bridges, people setting fire to themselves, people taking extraordinary risks in a very repressive society to protest against evictions and resist them," he said. "And, for us that is the big test. Why are people actually taking these risks to resist?"

The Center on Housing Rights and Evictions accuses the military government of Burma of ethnic cleansing of minority groups and social engineering through land confiscation and forced relocation of more than one million people since 1962.

Center Communications Officer Radhika Satkunanathan says many of these people have been displaced several times. She says the Burmese army displaces communities close to harvest time, so they can confiscate their crops.

"Most of these communities live a sort of nomadic life-style because of the Burmese army," she said. "Of course, the Burmese army claims that there are resettlement sites. But, once again, one of the trends that we noticed when doing the research for the report, is that there would be these resettlement sites and the displaced would cultivate, etc. and then during harvest time or close to harvest time, they would be evicted again."

The Center on Housing Rights and Evictions criticizes Slovakia for persistently discriminating against its Roma population that frequently faces segregation and forced eviction by local authorities.

More than 120,000 Roma in Slovakia reside in slums, lacking access to basic services such as water and electricity. The center says it is entirely unacceptable for a member of the European Union to allow this situation to continue.

On a more positive note, the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions has presented its Housing Rights Protector Award to the Mayor of Naga City, Philippines, Jesse Robredo, for assisting more than 6,000 families to obtain legal title to their land.

A housing rights activist from Karachi, Pakistan, Baseer Naveed won the Housing Rights Defender Award for helping to secure the housing rights of the poor in Pakistan.