Thrown Out: Human Rights Abuses in China’s Breakneck Real Estate Development (February 9, 2010)Comments Off on Thrown Out: Human Rights Abuses in China’s Breakneck Real Estate Development (February 9, 2010)
Human Rights Abuses in China’s Breakneck Real Estate Development
Published on February 9, 2010
Some of the most striking images to come out of China in recent memory—a lone house perched atop a column of dirt in the center of a vast excavation site, a plume of dark smoke rising from the body of a woman who has set herself aflame—reflect disputes relating to forced evictions.[i] As the State Council has released revisions of the key administrative regulations governing the expropriation of urban housing, CHRD’s new report, Thrown Out: Human Rights Abuses in China’s Breakneck Real Estate Development, shows how a combination of factors, including contradictory laws and regulations and collusion between developers and local authorities, have created an environment in which residents are at the mercy of real estate developers once demolition permits have been issued by local governments. While not all forced evictions end in headline-grabbing confrontations, abuses of citizens’ rights are widespread and significant.
For years, forced evictions have been near the top of the list of citizens’ complaints to the government.[ii] In Shanghai, the site of the 2010 World Expo, authorities acknowledged in 2009 that between 70 and 80 percent of petitions submitted involved forced evictions.[iii] While the government has publicly acknowledged the “mass incidents” [iv] and “social conflicts”[v] erupting across China as a result of the practice, it has been slow to act, especially as spending on construction was a large part of its stimulus package in the past year. Though officials occasionally offer words of consolation to families uprooted as a result of forced evictions, the government generally views those reluctant to leave their homes as impediments to GDP growth who must be moved out of the way.
When carrying out forced evictions, local governments rely on a set of administrative guidelines, the Urban Housing Demolition and Relocation Management Regulations (Demolition Regulations). As this report documents, these regulations contravene both Chinese law and the Chinese Constitution, and offer almost no protection for citizens’ human rights. The government has reportedly been discussing revisions to these regulations since 2007, [vi] and, as this report is published, has released in draft form a replacement for the Demolition Regulations, the Regulations for Expropriation and Compensation of Residential Buildings on State-owned Land. For many, however, reform will come too late. Over the past two years, while the government has dragged its feet on protecting its citizens, countless numbers have lost their homes, possessions, or worse. When, and in what form, these new regulations will go into effect remains to be seen.
Certain aspects of the draft regulations are encouraging. They stress that forced evictions can only be carried out in the “public interest,” a term not used in the Demolition Regulations, and outline seven areas of “public interest.” They stipulate that homeowners should be compensated for the market value of their homes as determined by “independent” property appraisers. They also stipulate that the persons affected by the eviction, the public and experts be consulted prior to the decision to expropriate the homes. However, the new regulations also have many flaws. For example, the seven areas of public interest are vague and broad, and could still potentially encompass commercial real estate development. The new regulations also do not give people being forced to relocate the option of stopping the process while disputes are resolved, a critical problem whose existence under the Demolition Regulations is documented by this report.
Administrative reform alone, however, will not solve the problems stemming from forced evictions. Many of the abuses associated with forced evictions—from harassment by development companies to pressure residents out of their homes, to the use of violence to remove homeowners who refuse to relocate, to arbitrary detention by police in order to facilitate the demolitions—are already outright violations of the law.
“If the government is serious in trying to address the widespread anger in Chinese society about forced evictions, it needs to do more than just revise the regulations,” said Wang Songlian, CHRD’s Research Coordinator. “Instead of viewing evictees as obstacles to economic development, it needs to prioritize their right to adequate housing and take concrete steps to protect citizens from the abuses currently associated with forced evictions, as it is required to do as a state party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.” A much more thorough investigation into all relevant laws and regulations governing the expropriation and demolition of homes and the eviction of their occupants as well as the extensive abuses related to evictions is urgently needed.
This report first gives a brief overview of the experiences of those subjected to forced evictions, outlining the stages of a typical case. It then focuses on the use of violence, detention, intimidation and harassment against evictees by developers and their associates, who often act with the collusion (if not active participation) of local officials. This report evaluates forced eviction as it is practiced in China in light of the guidelines recommended by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), which monitors the Covenant. CHRD finds that not only are individuals often forced to leave their homes without receiving adequate compensation, they are often not consulted about the process or given adequate notice prior to their eviction, and they do not know the identities of those responsible for their eviction. Evictees are often given minimal information about the proposed use of the land on which their homes are located, evicted at night, and denied effective legal remedies and legal aid. Faced with these violations, some residents choose to resist their eviction, and this report outlines some of their strategies.
CHRD concludes this report with recommendations to the Chinese government. We call on the government to:
- Act immediately to halt the widespread abuses occurring in the process of urban redevelopment;
- Launch a comprehensive investigation into the existing Chinese laws and regulations governing the expropriation and demolition of homes and the eviction of their occupants, and bring the regulatory regime up to the standards elaborated by the CESCR based on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;
- Ensure that those affected by forced eviction are provided with effective remedies and that competent authorities are available to enforce these remedies;
- Establish a “demolition and relocation fund” to provide emergency living expenses for residents who have not received compensation prior to the demolition of their homes;
- Establish independent “demolition and eviction complaints arbitration committees” at the provincial level; and
- Undertake an investigation into the current practice of expropriation, eviction and demolition and include the findings in the government’s forthcoming periodic report to the CESCR.
Thrown Out is based on a steady stream of reports of forced evictions CHRD has received from 13 provinces and municipalities, as well as a number of interviews conducted specially for this report, including five with members of households evicted for the Shanghai World Expo. The experiences of the individuals documented in this report indicate serious violations of the right to adequate housing, and abuses of a range of other civil, economic, and social rights.
This report focuses on owners of demolished homes and expands on a report previously published in Chinese by CHRD. That report was authored by a researcher who has worked in the real estate business and closely followed property and law issues in China.
[i] The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has drawn up standards that elaborate on the meaning of the “right to adequate housing” in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which China ratified in 2001. These standards define “forced evictions” as “the permanent or temporary removal against their will of individuals, families and/or communities from the homes and/or land which they occupy, without the provision of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protection.”
[ii] See for example, “Representative Hu Changsheng: Building a system of social indicators for a harmonious society, an interview with the representative to the National People’s Congress and Mayor of Suining City in Sichuan Province,” (胡昌升代表：应当构建和谐社会指标体系——访全国人大代表、四川遂宁市政府市长胡昌升), People’s Daily Online, March 6, 2009; “Most of the petition submitted for review concern resettlement disputes following demolition” (广州信访复核案件拆迁安置案最多), Guangzhou Daily, June 18, 2009; “The pain of demolition: in whose name is one deprived of one’s ancestral homes?” (拆迁之痛：以谁的名义剥夺世代祖居的房屋？), Xinhua, November 12, 2003