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(Washington, D.C.) -- Violent forced evictions in China are on the rise as local authorities seek to offset huge debts by seizing and then selling off land in suspect deals with property developers, Amnesty International said as it released its new report, Standing Their Ground, today.
The report highlights how forced evictions - a longstanding cause of discontent within China - have increased significantly in the past two years in order to clear the way for developments.
"Chinese authorities need to protect the hard-won land rights of the people rather than kicking them off their land to line their own pockets or fill government coffers," said Frank Jannuzi, head of Amnesty International’s Washington office and an East Asia expert.
Local governments have borrowed huge sums from state banks to finance stimulus projects and now rely on land sales to cover the payments. Forced evictions have resulted in deaths, beatings, harassment and imprisonment of residents who have been driven from their homes across China. Some residents were in such despair, they set themselves on fire in drastic protests.
"When the people of a nation feel so aggrieved that they are burning themselves to death, it is long past time for authorities to seek constructive remedies," Jannuzi said. "The Chinese government must stand up and address this situation head on."
China’s ruling elite continues to promote local officials who deliver economic growth, regardless of how it is achieved. Land re-development, at whatever cost – whether for new roads, factories or residential complexes – is seen as the most direct path to visible results.Local governments and property developers frequently hire thugs wielding steel rods and knives to rough up residents. Housing rights activists, lawyers and academics in China confirmed Amnesty International’s finding that the police hardly ever investigate such crimes. Unfortunately forced evictions are systematic of the lack of any effective legal redress in China, thus leading those in power to abuse their authority, torture political prisoners and conduct other human rights abuses with impunity.
"The issues that are at the root of China’s forced evictions are structural and entrenched, and lasting change will only come about when the incentives to commit human rights abuses are eradicated," Jannuzi said.
Of the 40 forced evictions that Amnesty International examined in detail as part of the research, nine culminated in the deaths of people protesting or resisting eviction. In one case a 70-year-old woman, Wang Cuiyan, was buried alive by an excavator on March 3, 2010 when a crew of about 30 to 40 workers came to demolish her house in Wuhan city, Hubei Province. Another violent eviction occurred on April 18, 2011 when a few hundred men entered Lichang village in Jiangsu Province and attacked farmers to force them off their land. About 20 women from the village were dragged away and beaten.
On June 21, 2011, police in Wenchang city, Sichuan province even took custody of a 20-month old baby and refused to return him until his mother signed an eviction order. People who stage resistance to forced evictions often end up in jail or in Re-education Through Labor (RTL) Centers.
With no or little access to justice some have turned to violence or even self-immolation as a last resort. Amnesty International collected reports of 41 cases of self-immolation from 2009 – 2011 alone due to forced evictions. That compares to fewer than 10 cases reported in the entire previous decade.
Forced evictions remain one of the greatest issues of popular discontent within China. Premier Wen Jiabaohas acknowledged the gravity of the situation and there has been some progress towards protecting people against forced evictions in line with international law and standards.
For the first time, new regulations adopted in 2011 state that compensation for homeowners must not be lower than market value and outlawed the use of violence. However, these laws and regulations still fall far short of the required standards and apply only to city dwellers.
Forced evictions - the removal against their will of individuals, families or communities from the homes or the land they occupy without access to legal or other protections - are banned under international law.
Amnesty International is calling on the authorities to immediately halt all forced evictions and ensure adequate safeguards are put in place in line with international law, including:
- Implement effective measures to ensure the entire population a degree of security of tenure that would protect them from forced evictions and other threats and harassment.
- Ensure that nobody is rendered homeless as a result of a forced eviction and all persons who cannot provide for themselves are given adequate alternative housing.
- Ensure that all victims of forced evictions have access to independent and impartial adjudication of their complaints and to an effective remedy.
- Punish and prosecute those who use violence during the eviction process.
For a copy of the new report and other materials including video, please contact the AIUSA media office at firstname.lastname@example.org
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.