Hundreds of thousands of Chinese homeowners and tenants are being forcibly evicted -- sometimes bulldozed out of their homes -- to make way for development projects, a rights group said yesterday.
In a report urging better protection of personal property, New York-based Human Rights Watch said developers and officials usually first try to tempt residents into moving out by offering compensation or new housing.
When those inducements fail, however, they resort to stronger methods, the report said. Forced evictions often come in the dead of night.
"Victims are sometimes evicted by hired thugs or have their homes knocked over by bulldozers while they are asleep in bed," said Sara Davis, a researcher for Human Rights Watch based in Hong Kong.
The report comes just weeks after China amended its Constitution to include its first explicit guarantees of individual property rights. Human Rights Watch urged the government to ensure those newly stated rights are protected, saying evicted residents have usually had little success getting help through the legal system.
"On paper, the new Constitutional amendment may provide some protection, but these words need to be translated into action," Davis said. "Instead of enforcing existing laws, local officials do little to stop illegal practices and in fact often benefit financially from close association with the developers."
Urban redevelopment in China often has led to clashes between authorities and householders demanding more compensation. Residents of destroyed areas are usually given too little money to buy new homes nearby or moved to outlying areas far from their jobs.
No precise figure is known for the number of people forcibly evicted nationwide.
Yet, in Shanghai alone, the homes of 2.5 million people have been demolished since the 1990s to clear land for high-rise hotels, shopping centers and apartment complexes. Responding to mounting anger over the issue, the city government issued rules last year banning evictions by force.
It is unclear whether the new rules have had any impact: The authorities keep a tight lid on protests in China's largest city and some of those involved in past conflicts have been jailed.
City officials usually refuse comment on such cases, or say only that they are being handled according to the law.
Evictions continue amid a national construction boom. Those required to move often are given little notice and, in some cases, never receive the compensation promised, Human Right Watch said.
Chinese from other provinces often travel to Beijing in hopes of getting central government officials to intervene in their cases, which frequently drag on for years.
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