UN accuses top Afghan ministers of land grab
PakTribune, September 12, 2003
KABUL: Top Afghan ministers are illegally occupying land and should be removed from their posts, a visiting UN-appointed, independent rapporteur on housing rights said on Thursday.
Miloon Kothari, concluding a two-week visit to assess the housing and land situation throughout the country, named powerful Defence Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim and Education Minister Yunus Qanooni as offenders.
He warned that property disputes could plunge Afghanistan back into "decades of conflict".
"Essentially what we have found there is that ministers and people at the highest level are involved in occupying land and in demolishing the homes of poor people," he told reporters.
"In fact a number of ministers, including the minister of defence, is directly involved in this kind of occupation and dispossession of poor people, some of whom have been there for 25 to 30 years."
Kothari, who was appointed by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR), said military commanders and senior defence ministry officials as well as Fahim and Qanooni were involved in the land seizures.
"It's a very long list. People at the very highest level are involved in this occupation."
Fahim's spokesman Gulbuddin denied the defence or education ministers were involved in any illegal land grabs.
"We strongly deny any involvement of the defence minister or Qanooni in such things," he told AFP.
"The Taliban could not occupy people's lands and houses so how could we do that."
Qanooni's spokesman was unaware of the allegations.
Kothari said the alleged land-grabbers had taken advantage of Afghanistan's chaotic post-conflict situation to seize property.
"There has to be a change and ministers that are very directly involved have to be removed, I don't see what else can be done," said Kothari, who will present a report on his mission to the UNCHR in April next year.
All the officials named by the UN envoy are from the Northern Alliance, which is the backbone of the government.
Correspondents say there remains strong factionalism among those in power in Afghan ministries and their supporters.
The UN's special envoy on the right to adequate housing, Miloon Kothari, said on Thursday he had spoken to people whose houses had been destroyed in Kabul's Shir Pur district to make way for new homes for ministers.
In addition to Marshal Fahim, he named the Education Minister, Yunis Qanooni, and said he had a list of others.
"A number of ministers... including the minister of defence are directly involved in this kind of occupation and dispossession of poor people, some of whom have been there for 25 to 30 years."
Mr Kothari warned that if property disputes were not tackled they could return the country to "decades of conflict".
BBC, 12 September, 2003
He said the land grabs and mass displacements of poor Afghans was a major cause of the insecurity besetting the country. It was also hindering aid and reconstruction projects as the country struggles to recover from 23 years of war and drought.
"There is a great climate of insecurity that is being created across the country, which is for reasons other than armed conflict; it's for reasons of occupation, it's for reasons of land speculation, it's for reasons of property conflict," he said.
"Unless these issues are addressed at the judicial level, at all other levels, what we are seeing in Afghanistan today is that we are sowing the seeds for decades of conflict ... due to a land and property and housing crisis."
Kothari said there was an "urgent need" to establish a national housing and land policy and set up a land commission to tackle the problem.
The special rapporteur last week criticised as "gross violations" the forced eviction of some 30 families and bulldozing of their houses built on defence ministry land in Kabul.
Evicted locals, many of whom were former ministry workers, had told AFP they were beaten by police, given no advance notice of the eviction and offered nowhere else to go. Others were still in their houses when the bulldozer moved in.
Kothari said growing land speculation, particularly in the cities, was "putting land and housing out of the reach of the poor".
Rents have rocketed since the fall of the Taliban, with houses rented for 200-300 dollars in 2001 now fetching up to 4,000 dollars a month.
KABUL- Abdul Salam and his six-member family were having breakfast quietly at home on Wednesday when their house was bulldozed by Afghan police. "We thought it was a bomb explosion or earthquake," the 35-year-old civil servant told IRIN, adding that two of her children were injured when they started to escape the destruction through the windows.
Police violently evict Kabul residents
IRIN News, September 4, 2003
Salam's is one of 30 families in the Shirpur area of Wazir Akbar Khan district of the capital Kabul, who were evicted from their homes and then watched in horror as their houses were destroyed in front of them, because, authorities say, they were built illegally.
Many of those evicted were badly injured during the operation as their flimsy houses crashed down around them. According to residents and witnesses, the chief of police of Kabul himself led the operation.
RAWA Photos from Shirpur
Buildings of Afghan
Authorities in Kabul
"Policemen were badly beating the residents and they even beat two women when they tried to stop police beating their husbands,' Salam maintained.
Kabul is desperately short of housing as hundreds of thousands of returned refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) have flocked to the capital in search of work and services. Two decades of conflict have left vast areas of Kabul in ruins and there is no prospect of affordable housing in quantity becoming available any time soon. Rents have soared in Kabul in the past 18 months, placing housing out of reach of many residents and returnees.
The United Nations on Thursday expressed concern over the incident. "What has happened here is not only a serious human rights violation but also contrary to the human rights obligation of the [Afghan] government itself," Miloon Kothari, a Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing for the United Nations Commission of Human Rights, told IRIN while visiting the homeless families at the demolition site on Thursday. Kothari had been invited by the Afghan government to look at housing, land rights and displacement in the country.
According to Kothari, those evicted are poor and had been living in the district for 30 years. "The very people who are responsible for maintaining law and order and responsible for ensuring that these people have their rights, appear to be the violators."
The Kabul police said that they had informed the residents to vacate the area six months ago. "We have not done the demolition ourselves, we have protected the municipality people and as an executive power of the government it was our responsibility," General Basir Salangi the chief of police in Kabul, told IRIN on Thursday maintaining his men were acting on a court order from the office of the attorney general. "The families were given many options such as alternative land, cash and tents but they did not accept any of these," he underlined.
The United Nation Assistant Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said that considering the large deployment of police personnel and equipment, the authorities had acted with excessive use of force. "Such action also created a humanitarian emergency, as the houses of these 30 families were bulldozed and many of their belongings destroyed," said Manoel de Almeida e Silva, a spokesperson of the UN special envoy in Afghanistan.
UNAMA said that about 260 other families in the same district were at risk of eviction in the next three months. "There should be no evictions until there is planning for the city of Kabul that is for everybody, mainly for the poor," Kathori said, indicating he would write a letter to Afghan president Hamid Karzai on the issue.
h t t p : / / w w w . r a w a . o r g