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UN Report: Thousands of Afghans Forcibly Evicted From Their Homes - 2004-04-11

A special United Nations investigator says thousands of Afghans are being forcibly evicted from their homes by warlords, politicians and land speculators. He says the victims are rarely compensated. The report was submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Commission, which is holding its annual six-week session in Geneva.

U.N. human rights expert Miloon Kothari says land-grabbing goes on throughout Afghanistan. He says forced evictions sometimes are accompanied by violence, and people often are thrown out of their homes, without prior warning.

When he visited Afghanistan last year, he says, he tried to intervene in a case of forced evictions in the capital, Kabul. He says 100 armed police officers, accompanied by bulldozers and trucks, destroyed the homes of around 30 families. He says the people received no warning that their houses were to be demolished.

"We also found that the evictions were being carried out, so that land would be cleared for ministers to build houses for themselves," said Mr. Kothari. "We also found evidence that ministers, including the defense minister and the education minister, had not only received land, but also gained from speculating on the land."

Mr. Kothari says, in some cases, the ministers had bought plots of land for as little as $4,000, and subsequently sold them for about $100,000.

Following this incident, Mr. Kothari says, Afghan President Hamid Karzai set up an independent investigative commission to look into the issue of forced evictions. But, so far, he says, the transitional government has not made public the results of the findings.

He says it appears the government is unwilling to take action against illegal transactions and land speculation.

"It creates a climate, where land-grabbers, including commanders, including drug lords and others will, there will be a sense of impunity in the country, which has been there since the formation of the transitional government, and this phenomenon of land-grabbing, land-speculation will continue," he said.

The U.N. investigator says he also found evidence that drug cartels in Afghanistan are using property investments to launder huge sums of money, stemming from the marijuana and heroin trade.

Mr. Kothari says land speculators have driven prices up to astronomical levels, making housing unaffordable for most people. He says this has created particular hardships for the unprecedented number of refugees, most of them women and children, returning from Pakistan and Iran.