Violent forced evictions are increasing in China as local governments seek to pay off debts by seizing land and selling usage rights to property developers, Amnesty International said in a report on Thursday.
The report, "Standing Their Ground", said growing numbers of Chinese have been forced from their homes in both rural and urban areas, with evictees sometimes beaten, imprisoned, or even killed at the hands of authorities.
"The pace of forced evictions has only accelerated over the past three years," said the report, which the human rights group said was based on media reports and interviews with rights activists, lawyers and academics.
It said the increase in evictions stemmed in part from a construction boom stoked by a government stimulus program implemented to ward off the effects of the 2008 financial crisis.
The loosening of credit allowed local governments to take out loans on an "unprecedented scale", but local governments soon found themselves unable to continue financing the projects, "so they sank deeper into debt", Amnesty said.
China's local-level governments are heavily dependent on revenue from land development projects, causing them to step up evictions to pave the way for such developments, the report said.
"In order to reduce their debt burden, they increasingly find their interests aligned with those of real estate developers," it said.
All land in China is owned by the state or rural collectives. There is no private land ownership, but citizens can buy and sell rights to use land for up to 70 years.
The report said that eviction campaigns, sanctioned by local governments, "often employ coercive tactics in violation of international law", including "physical intimidation and a range of violent acts".
"There needs to be an end to the political incentives, tax gains and career advancements that encourage local officials to continue with such illegal practices," Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty's senior research director, said in a statement accompanying the report's release.
China introduced new regulations in 2011 which outlawed the use of violence during evictions, and stipulated that the state must provide homeowners with compensation which at least equals the market value of their land.
But the report said that the regulations did not cover homeowners in rural areas, where forced evictions are widespread, and were unevenly enforced by Chinese courts.
"Courts seldom accept forced eviction cases. When they do, they rarely rule in favour of the victim because judges do not want to anger their superiors," it said.
China has seen widespread urban demolition and conversion of rural land for housing over the past few decades, as the economy has grown and cities have dramatically expanded during a period of rapid economic growth.
Such evictions are a key spark for violent protests that erupt on a regular basis across China and are typically suppressed by authorities.