By Alishba I. Kassim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
TUOL SAMBO, Cambodia – In June 2009, the Cambodian government forcibly relocated 20 HIV-affected families to substandard housing at Tuol Sambo, a remote site 24 kilometers from the city. On July 23, the government moved another 20 HIV-affected families to the site.
The green sheds that are now home to these families in Tuol Sambo are referred to as the “AIDS village.” The sheds lack running water and adequate sanitation according to Human Rights Watch. “By bundling people living with HIV together into second-rate housing, far from medical facilities, support services, and jobs, the government has created a de facto AIDS colony,” said Shiba Phurailatpam of the Asia-Pacific Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS. She further commented, “It’s hard to understand how a government that has received international recognition for its HIV-prevention efforts could so callously ignore the basic rights of people with HIV.”
Dozens of humanitarian agencies and regional groups sent a joint letter to Cambodia’s prime minister and health minister, asking the leaders to urgently address the unsanitary conditions in Tuol Sambo.
The joint letter stressed that conditions in Tuol Sambo do not meet the international standards for even temporary emergency housing. “The housing conditions in Tuol Sambo pose serious health risks for families living there… People living with HIV have compromised immune systems and are especially vulnerable. For them, these substandard conditions can mean a death sentence,” said Rebecca Shleifer, health and human rights advocate at Human Rights Watch.
The letter called on the Cambodian government to initiate a fair and open process with regards to housing services and to stop exposing HIV-affected families to further stigma and discrimination. “People living with HIV – like all others – need adequate living conditions that do not threaten their health and a way to earn a livelihood, so that they can provide for themselves and their families,” said Kevin Moody of The Global Network of People living with HIV.
The letter was delivered July 27. Many members of human rights agencies and health organizations eagerly await a response.
For more information, please see:
Human Rights Watch – Cambodia: Aids Colony Violates Rights – July 27, 2009
Phnom Penh Post – Final HIV Families Withdraw – July 27, 2009