by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Oct 11, 2012
Violent forced evictions are increasing in China as local governments seek to pay off debts by seizing land and selling usage rights to property developers, Amnesty International said in a report on Thursday.
The report, entitled "Standing Their Ground", said growing numbers of Chinese have been forced from their homes in both rural and urban areas, with evictees sometimes beaten, imprisoned, or even killed at the hands of authorities.
"The pace of forced evictions has only accelerated over the past three years," the human rights group said in the report, based on media articles and interviews with rights activists, lawyers and academics.
The report noted that such evictions had spurred a surge in self-immolation cases by desperate homeowners, saying there were 41 such cases from 2009-11.
Amnesty International's senior research director Nicola Duckworth told a news briefing in Hong Kong the figure was in stark contrast to that of the past decade, which saw fewer than 10 such cases.
Amnesty said the increase in evictions stemmed in part from a construction boom stoked by a government stimulus program implemented to ward off the effects of the 2008 financial crisis.
The loosening of credit allowed local governments to take out loans on an "unprecedented scale", but administrations soon found themselves unable to continue financing their projects, "so they sank deeper into debt", Amnesty said.
China's local-level governments are heavily dependent on revenue from land development projects, causing them to step up evictions in order to pave the way for such schemes, the report said.
It said provincial governments "increasingly find their interests aligned with those of real estate developers".
All land in China is owned by the state or rural collectives. There is no private land ownership, but citizens can buy and sell rights to use land for up to 70 years.
The report said eviction campaigns, sanctioned by local governments, "often employ coercive tactics in violation of international law", including "physical intimidation and a range of violent acts".
"There needs to be an end to the political incentives, tax gains and career advancements that encourage local officials to continue with such illegal practices," Duckworth said in a statement accompanying the report.
In 2011 China outlawed the use of violence during evictions and stipulated market-rate compensation must be paid to relocated residents.
But Amnesty said the regulations did not cover rural areas, where forced evictions are widespread, and were unevenly enforced by Chinese courts.
"When they do, they rarely rule in favour of the victim because judges do not want to anger their superiors," the report said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters Amnesty was "prejudiced" against China, when asked about the report, adding that Chinese regulations protected property owners.
China has seen widespread urban demolition, conversion of rural land for housing and a dramatic expansion of cities in recent decades as the country's economy has rapidly expanded.
Such evictions often spark violent protests across China which are typically suppressed by authorities.
Democracy in the 21st century at TerraDaily.com
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