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International Tribunal on Tourism-Related Evictions

International Tribunal on Tourism-Related Evictions

Soha Ben Slama at the East Asia Regional Tribunal

Interview with Soha Ben Slama, International Alliance of Inhabitants (IAI)

By Christina Kamp

Tourism may play a major role when people face dislocation from their homes. With an international tribunal to be held in Venice at the end of September, the International Alliance of Inhabitants (IAI) will draw attention to processes of displacement and evictions caused by or closely linked to tourism development.

The IAI is a global network of grassroots associations of inhabitants and community social movements. We asked Soha Ben Slama, coordinator of the International Tribunal on Evictions, about the relevance of tourism-related displacement especially in South Asia.

Are tourism-related evictions a common phenomenon, as compared to other driving forces of displacement?

Tourism-related evictions are the often hidden results of a massive movement of people and capitals, including mega-events and other structural changes. Urban restructuring used to bring new and more people, new facilities and financial resources to cities at quite a rapid pace, without evaluating the dramatic consequences for local communities, families, or ignoring them generally. In 2016 more than 1.2 billion international tourist arrivals were recorded, increasing its pressure on communities all over the world.

What kind of tourism-related evictions have you observed as the most typical in Asia?

Mega events at large scale such as Olympic Games and world fairs are short term events with long term consequences for the people living in the cities hosting them, and these consequences are always connected with an urban revitalization agenda and automatically not without a threat and/or displacement and eviction of those communities.

Last year’s East-Asian Tribunal on Evictions as the first regional ITE was an important and interesting opportunity for us, as IAI co-organizers and jury members, to study the cases and hear the testimonies. All the cases were dramatic. Those related to tourism included the eviction of Shinjuku Kasumigaoka-cho public housing complex under Olympic 2020 Stadium Project in Tokyo, Japan. In Taoyuan, Taiwan 20.000 people were expropriated and evicted because of the Taoyuan Aeropolis. And in South Korea the militarisation of Jeju Island involves a civil-military multifunctional port and a second airport, also to be used for tourism.

Some kinds of evictions may not at first sight be attributed to tourism, but are still linked to it. Can you give examples?

Often linked to tourism is the displacement of entire communities and the destruction of the environment to build infrastructure that promotes mobility, e.g. ports, airports and roads. Native peoples are often evicted from forests under the pretext of preserving the environment. We have a lot of cases, mainly in Asia and Africa. Coastal or at risk villages are forced into a "resilient" tourism transformation to face natural disasters. How many villages were evicted after the Tsunami of 2004, especially in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand, leading to numerous cases of “land grabbing” by powerful individuals and authorities, in order to then re-allocate those lands to tourism development. It is a “disaster capitalism” – from victims of a dramatic natural disaster to victims of the system.

In the cities, we see an acceleration of gentrification via their gradual transformation into outdoor museums or amusement parks. Venice seems to be one of the worst examples, which is a reason why this year’s tribunal will be held in Venice.

Private homes are converted into tourist accommodation and marketed on platforms such as AirBnB. This is one of the most dangerous and massive developments, as it strengthens an unnatural alliance between inhabitants as "small speculators" and multinationals of tourism, undermining the right to housing of local residents. Another factor is the redevelopment of historical neighbourhoods, such as the destruction of the Hutongs in China to give way to skyscrapers.

What are the main concerns that will be raised at the International Tribunal on Evictions during this Session?

The International Tribunal on Evictions is one of the powerful tools of the Zero Evictions Campaigns that IAI has been organizing for more than a decade now. The ITE distinguishes three types of situations and considers them all:

  • Evictions which have already taken place, leading to the displacement of families, eviction from their houses or lands, demolition of houses, but also in many cases the destruction of entire neighbourhoods, ones that have been there for many years.
  • Eviction processes which are under way or imminent.
  • Cases in which there is a short-term foreseeable threat of eviction.

The ITE’s main concerns are the communities. We

  • encourage the affected people – local, urban and rural poor people – to make their voices, proposals and struggles heard against abusive tourism related evictions,
  • discuss the common visions and share struggles related this year to tourism evictions and displacement,
  • help the converging and solidarity of the social movements involved, by denouncing and struggling against the neoliberal policies hidden behind “development projects”, as well as the alliance with other stakeholders,
  • support their campaigns, their struggles in order to positively address the cases and strengthen alternative policies, and also victories that are taking place.

In what ways does the Tribunal take into account forms of displacement related to tourism that may not be forced evictions, but still dislocate people from their homes?

Our tool is the “International Call for Cases”, using a form we have published and disseminated for the cases to fill in and send. The questions are accurate and their variety helps us to determine what kind of eviction it is. And as long as there is dislocation, displacement and eviction of people from their homes, lands, territories, the ITE is a suitable platform, relying:

  • on the expertise of an international jury well respected and competent,
  • on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and other instruments of international law, in order to pass judgement on real cases of forced evictions that constitute human rights violations.

We look at all forms of spoliation and dispossessions related to ownership and use of land. It is therefore quite possible that ITE sessions will also consider cases of evictions that were carried out following a formal national judgement, but which violate either international law or the ethical values recognized by the ITE.

Are there cases from South Asia that will be brought before the Tribunal in September?

There will definitely be two cases from South Asia of tourism-related evictions. One is from New Delhi, India, in the context of the third airport project in the National Capital Region. The second one is from Sri Lanka where inhabitants of Paanama Village suffer from land grabbing for tourism development.

How does the International Tribunal on Evictions support the people affected in defending their rights?

Our approach is “Commitment – Solidarity – Mobilization – Negotiations – Perserverance – Success”. By examining the selected cases, issuing a judgment and making formal recommendations to address the situation with due respect of the affected people’s human rights, to the various stakeholders, including the United Nations, national governments, local authorities, the economic and institutional actors responsible for the evictions, and to civic organizations helping them enforce their demands. The strength of the ITE does not only lie in the power of the complaint, but especially in the follow-up: the periodic monitoring of the recommendations, in particular during the World Zero Evictions Days in October, and the support of the Zero Evictions Campaign.

This is how the recommendations could be a contribution to a roadmap of alternative social pacts, aiming to involve all relevant stakeholders (social, professional, institutional) in order to implement positive solutions to evictions based on the respect for all rights and our responsibility toward future generations.

Further Information:

International Alliance of Inhabitants: www.habitants.org

International Tribunal on Evictions: www.tribunal-evictions.org

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