Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions _COHRE_

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					                    Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE)

    Statement on the Indian Ocean tsunami and housing rights
                                             16 February 2005

COHRE expresses its sincere condolences to all those who lost family and friends as a result of
the Indian Ocean tsunami on 26 December 2004. COHRE also expresses its continued solidarity
with all affected communities. COHRE is encouraged by the extraordinary national and
international responses to this natural disaster, which bear remarkable testimony to the universal
concern for the victims.

The massive loss of and damage to homes, neighbourhoods and livelihoods, the displacement of
millions of people and the dislocation of social networks and communities will require an
unprecedented effort of reconstruction and rehabilitation. Dealing with issues including access to
land, the provision of adequate housing for the homeless, security of tenure and community
consultation and participation – properly and in full accordance with international human rights
standards – will be critical, both to the well-being of survivors and their communities and to the
success of the rebuilding effort.1

COHRE is convinced that the best way to ensure the rights of all those affected by the tsunami
are protected, and aid and assistance promised to them is actually delivered, is to approach the
entire reconstruction process in all the stricken countries from a human rights perspective.

Sadly, the disaster and its aftermath have created countless opportunities for exploitation of the
region’s marginalised and vulnerable groups. COHRE is deeply concerned by continuing reports
that the tsunami has been used as a pretext for forcible displacement, forced evictions, land
grabs, unjustifiable land-acquisition plans and other measures designed to prevent homeless
residents from returning to their original homes and lands. The planned reconstruction efforts
are mostly ‘top-down’ in nature, thus excluding many affected communities from the decision-
making process. Reports indicate that some governments are planning to build new housing four
or five kilometres from traditional coastal villages. This will have a serious impact on peoples’

COHRE believes that human rights violations, whether in the immediate aftermath of the
tsunami or during the reconstruction phase, will only compound the region’s suffering and delay
its economic and social development.

Therefore, COHRE calls upon: the governments of India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar
(Burma), Sri Lanka and Thailand; donor governments; national and international aid agencies;
and all other actors operating or working in the affected areas to adopt a human rights approach
to the reconstruction and rehabilitation process as a constructive means of preventing human
rights violations for as long as that process continues.

Such an approach should focus on seven key areas:

1    See ‘Tsunami Recovery – Meeting the immediate and longer-term needs of the communities affected’, statement
     by UK-based professionals and NGOs including COHRE, 28 January 2005
     ( )

    1.    The right to voluntary return
    2.    The right to adequate housing and secure tenure
    3.    The right to participation, consultation and non-discrimination
    4.    The right to protection in temporary camps
    5.    Rights to livelihood, social security, water, health and education
    6.    Equal rights to inheritance
    7.    Women’s rights

These areas are explained in greater detail below.

1        The right to voluntary return
All former residents of the affected areas should be given the right to voluntarily return, without
discrimination, to the land on which they originally lived. If their homes are still intact or
repairable, their rights to recover and repossess these homes should be respected. Such rights are
widely protected in international human rights treaties ratified by the region’s governments.

Any unjustifiable restriction on return amounts to forced eviction, which is illegal under
international law. No-one should carry out forced evictions unless truly extraordinary
circumstances are present. The responsible authorities should not unreasonably use restrictions
on return to coastal lands to prevent residents from returning to affected areas. Instead, and in
full consultation with the communities in question, they should first investigate alternative ways
of protecting residents from future tsunamis, including the development of a comprehensive
warning system at both the local and regional levels.

COHRE is particularly concerned about Thailand’s use of ‘setback regulations’ to prevent the
return of residents and Sri Lanka’s policy of restricting persons and communities from living
within 100 metres of the ocean.

Displacement and temporary resettlement of people in camps or transitional housing settlements
should last no longer than is necessary under the circumstances. Reports that the Indonesian
military has been preventing residents of Banda Aceh from returning to rebuild their homes by
restricting them to temporary camps should be investigated and any such practice halted.

No-one should be forcibly returned to affected areas against their will.

Particular attention should be paid to: (1) indigenous peoples living on ancestral lands; (2) fishing
communities; and (3) those whose former homes were in informal settlements. The land-tenure
rights of such groups are often insecure, even though they or their forebears have lived on the
land for decades, if not centuries.

COHRE is alarmed by reports that indigenous people in India are being prevented from
returning to their traditional lands.

2    The right to adequate housing and secure tenure
Within the shortest possible time-frame, all tsunami-affected families and individuals should be
provided with access to adequate and affordable housing, in accordance with international
human rights on adequate housing.

Governments that have already publicly committed themselves to securing these rights for the
affected persons should ensure that they keep their promises and develop appropriate

Upon return or resettlement, security of tenure should be granted to affected individuals and
communities, and this should be properly registered within official housing and land registries.

No-one should become homeless as a result of the reconstruction process.

Governments, communities and NGOs will have to make a special effort to work together to
find housing solutions that are acceptable to all the affected individuals, families and
communities. Unfortunately, it is reported that in some areas new housing is being built far from
the coast, in ways that do not take account of social and familial arrangements. Governments
and foreign agencies might consider the example of the Government of Gujarat, which, in the
aftermath of the 2001 earthquake, allowed local communities and local NGOs to lead the
reconstruction process.

Residents should be able to appeal against any decisions that exclude them from reconstruction
and rehabilitation programmes. Complaints mechanisms should be established within all such

3    The right to participation, consultation and non-discrimination
Special efforts should be made to ensure the full participation of tsunami-displaced persons in
the planning and management of their return, re-housing or resettlement.

All affected communities should be consulted on any housing plans and encouraged to organise
themselves into community-based organisations representing their own interests.

Fully participatory, transparent and accountable systems must be developed to ensure that only
former residents – and poorer residents in particular – benefit from the rebuilding of homes and
related infrastructure.

All reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts should take account of the needs of especially
vulnerable or marginalised groups, including women, children, ethnic minorities, the elderly, the
disabled, the chronically ill, the HIV-infected, and households headed by single parents or
children. Governments and all other responsible authorities and actors should ensure that none
of these groups suffer direct or indirect discrimination during or as a result of the relief and
reconstruction efforts.

Those living in remote areas – for example, areas outside the provincial capital of Banda Aceh –
should receive the same priority in relief and reconstruction efforts as their counterparts in more
urbanised and accessible areas.

4     The right to protection in temporary camps
The setting up and running of temporary camps for the displaced should be in full conformity
with international human rights standards. In addition to fulfilling camp residents’ minimum
rights to shelter, water, food, medical care and education, the camps should be managed in full
consultation and cooperation with the displaced themselves. In all respects, the region’s
governments should adhere to the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

Neither military nor police forces should be responsible for managing temporary camps. The
provision or withholding of emergency assistance should not be used as a means of control or

Within all temporary camps, physical and psychological security and mental health – particularly
of women and children – should be maintained and protected. This should include adequate
measures to prevent and remedy any sexual or physical abuse, harassment and threats, and

5     Rights to livelihood, social security, water, health and
The aid effort should not be disproportionately directed towards providing emergency assistance
and establishing temporary camps.

A significant amount of the resources available for reconstruction and rehabilitation should be
devoted to building appropriate housing, and to restoring: (1) lost livelihoods; (2) assets for social
security; (3) groundwater reserves degraded by salt-water intrusion and pollution; (4) health,
education and community facilities.

6     Equal rights to inheritance
All inheritance and property-ownership laws or practices, whether formal or informal, that are
discriminatory and may thus prevent the equitable transfer of property to survivors – particularly
to women and girls – should be abolished. Widows should be given legal title to land and
housing in their own names, and married women should be recognised on the title deed along
with their husband and children, if any.

7     Women’s rights
Women have traditionally been at the forefront in ensuring the survival and welfare of their
communities. Therefore, in addition to safeguarding the women’s rights emphasised above, it is
particularly important to support women in the relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation effort
and to respect their right to participation.

Women should be strongly represented in all decision-making processes relating to the operation
of relief, rebuilding or resettlement programmes, including the allocation and prioritisation of
funds for construction, services and land. Such programmes should, as far as possible, put
women’s rights to land and housing first.

COHRE is deeply disturbed by reports that women are facing harassment and violence – often
of a sexual nature – during rescue operations and in refugee camps. There are increasingly
frequent reports of women and children being kidnapped, most likely for ‘sale’ into
sex-trafficking. COHRE unequivocally condemns this practice which exploits women and
children who, with no secure land and housing, are in an extremely vulnerable position.
Women’s rights and concerns must be addressed as a matter of great urgency.

The way ahead

The human suffering caused by this natural disaster must not be exacerbated by violating the
human rights of survivors who are seeking to re-establish their homes, livelihoods and
communities. COHRE stands ready to work with governments, donors, communities and other
actors in ensuring the adoption of a human rights framework in all reconstruction and
rehabilitation efforts.

COHRE will continue to closely monitor the tsunami relief effort and to organise and participate
with national and international NGOs, communities and professionals in workshops designed to
facilitate a human rights response. COHRE will strongly support the work of national and
regional civil society (see, for example:

COHRE is planning to send a high-level fact-finding mission to tsunami-affected areas in late
2005 to examine the human rights situation approximately one year after the disaster. The
mission will visit affected communities in the countries concerned and meet with governments,
civil society and aid agencies in order to document progress with reconstruction and
rehabilitation efforts. The mission will also monitor aid distribution and will assess whether there
has been full compliance with international human rights standards.


For further information on COHRE’s activities in response to the Indian Ocean tsunami, please
contact any of our Tsunami Response Coordinators:
Scott Leckie, Executive Director:, tel. +, +
Melinda Ching Simon, Deputy Director:, +41.79.713.5867
Ken Fernandes, Asia-Pacific Programme Coordinator:, +61.412.164.257

Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE)
83 rue de Montbrillant
CH-1202 Geneva, Switzerland
Tel. +41.22.734.1028
Fax +41.22.733.8336
Housing Rights for Everyone, Everywhere

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