The head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Jacques Rogge, told a news agency on Thursday that he had persuaded Beijing to introduce several laws on rights and environment issues ahead of the August Olympic Games, including a measure securing compensation for people evicted from their homes. His comments followed the publication of a report on Wednesday by a global housing rights organisation estimating the number of displacements and evictions in the Chinese capital at 1.5 million. Meanwhile, one family has attracted great attention recently by refusing to comply with an eviction order.
Masses of Beijing residents have been displaced to make way for the Olympic stadiums such as the Bird's Nest
Surrounded by pictures of Mao Zedong and other communist leaders, the 14 members of the headstrong Yu family have barricaded themselves inside their home in central Beijing. They refuse to leave their house, which the authorities claim is dangerous and in need of demolishment. The Yus say they have not been offered adequate compensation.
But thousands of others have not been so stubborn, or have been forced to leave. Masses of Beijing residents have been evicted to make way for Olympic venue sites, where new stadiums have been built for example, but also in areas which are part of an urban beautification programme.
Chinese officials allege that 6,000 families have been involved in the “Olympic relocation programme”. However, COHRE, the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, estimates that the numbers are considerably higher. COHRE’s executive director, Salih Booker, even says its estimate is on the conservative side.
“COHRE’s findings that 1.5 million people have been displaced in and around Beijing as a result of the Olympic Games process are based upon our analysis of statements and reports of the Chinese government both at the national and the local level, as well as on estimates that have been documented in the field during COHRE’s 2008 fact-finding mission to Beijing.”
Evictions have more than doubled
COHRE’s research has found that the number of displacements and evictions has more than doubled since the 1990s when there was an average of 70,000 a year. Although the organisation acknowledges many would have taken place anyway, it says that the process accelerated and intensified after China won its Olympic bid.
It is not unusual for evictions and displacements to take place ahead of Olympic Games -- the Greek government came under heavy criticism in 2004 for its displacements, especially because the Roma ethnic community was disproportionately affected. The British courts are already scrutinising similar cases ahead of the 2012 Games in London.
COHRE says that displacements have reached an unprecedented scale in Beijing and has called for safeguards to be implemented immediately.
The dark side
“We are concerned about future Olympics and other mega events, not just Olympics but the World Cup, these kinds of global events literally require host cities to construct new facilities and host cities and countries use these events to promote a positive image of their countries for political and economic reasons,” Salih Booker explained.
“But the dark side of this is that hundreds of thousands of people are having their housing rights violated and facing forced evictions -- and in many cases violence -- and displacement to areas where they no longer can enjoy the same standard of living.”
Booker added that the report on Beijing was released “precisely to draw attention to this problem, which is not unique to China but where the scale has been greater than in any other prior games.”
Promoting Best Practice
Instead of there always being an unavoidable “dark side”, COHRE suggests that in future the host cities and countries of such global events should compete against each other to offer Best Practice norms and develop sustainable housing projects. COHRE has urged the International Olympic Committee “to act immediately to ensure that housing rights are no longer ignored in future decisions.”
On Thursday, Jacques Rogge of the IOC said “silent diplomacy” had led to an agreement from the Chinese authorities to “obtain proper compensation for people dispossessed by the Olympic building projects.”
But observers warn that the understanding of “proper compensation” is relative. Compensation has been awarded to many of the 1.5 million displaced or evicted people, says COHRE but often the rates have been lower than the market value or less money has ended up in people’s hands because of corruption.
This is why the Yu family refuses to leave its home inside the former “Imperial Palace” until it believes it has received proper compensation in return.