NGO Media Statement Condemns Relocation Site Violence and Railways Eviction Notice

Media Statement

Apr. 6, 2012

Phnom Penh

 

Bridges Across Borders Cambodia (BABC), Housing Rights Task Force (HRTF), Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT) and Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) condemn the violent and unprovoked attack on Trapeang Anchang relocation site residents by local authorities on the evening of April 5, 2012.  The organisations also call attention to the eviction notice served to families along the railway tracks in Poi Pet – should the notice be acted upon, this would amount to forced eviction in the ADB and AusAID funded railways rehabilitation project.

At sundown on April 5, 2012, at Trapeang Anchang railways relocation site, the village chief along with three other people came to community representative Ros Bopha’s house. Carrying a bottle of wine, he scolded Ms Bopha, telling her that he was in charge in the area and that she should not try to affect change in her surroundings. Earlier in the day, Ms Bopha had requested medical assistance for the relocated community from local human rights NGO LICADHO, yet upon the medical team’s arrival at the site the local authorities denied them permission to treat the villagers. A few days before, Bopha had also led her community of 166 households to deliver a complaint to the ADB, stating they would like to “sue the project developers who disrespect their policy, have made our livelihood worse off and caused us to fall into debt and face losing our plots and houses.” In the letter, the villagers also stated: “We are disconnected to electricity, and we are living in the dark at night, we have no job, our livelihood became severe.”

With Trapeang Anchang Boun village chief Chan Sy Dara and cronies outside Bopha’s house, members of the community came to their representative’s defence. Quickly, an argument started between the people and the authorities present. The situation escalated when an estimated one hundred men – including local village “security militia” introduced by the government in early 2011 – entered the site carrying electric batons, knives, and sticks. They proceeded to attack the villagers with their weapons, also hurling bricks and rocks at them. “We feel the local authorities had prepared them to come,” one villager said the following day.

Despite police presence, the violent attack on the community carried on during the evening. Several people were injured, two of whom required overnight medical assistance at a hospital in Phnom Penh.

The unprovoked and violent nature of the attack reveals the hostile environment to which families from Phnom Penh’s railway tracks have been relocated. Not only do families at the site face problems related to mounting debt and lack of income generating opportunities, they now also fear the very authorities who are meant to look out for their interests.

“The community sought basic medical assistance that was otherwise unavailable at the site, and this is the result. A vicious, pre-planned, and violent attack, it also amounts to denial of the right to health, as was the local authorities preventing distribution of medicine by our NGO doctor,” said LICADHO Technical Supervisor Am Sam Ath.

“The current situation at the Trapeang Anchang relocation site is simply unacceptable.  The violence adds to the already inadequate living standard at the site where families from the railway tracks have been relocated as part of the ADB and AusAID funded railways rehabilitation,” said Nora Lindstrom, Programme Development Manager at STT.

“Both ADB and AusAID resettlement policies require livelihoods of the affected people to be enhanced, or at least restored to the pre-project levels.  Adequate relocation should also include security at the resettlement site for all resettled families,” said Eang Vuthy, Program Manager for the Development Watch Program of BABC. “When Trapeang Anchang was chosen as the site to which affected families in Phnom Penh would be relocated, we raised serious concerns regarding its suitability. Neither agency listened, and now two people are in hospital.”

Problems with the railways project are not  isolated to Phnom Penh communities. On Apr. 5, 2012 , families living along the railway tracks in Poi Pet received an eviction notice from the local authorities. Residents were given ten days – from the signing of the notice (Mar. 27, 2012) – to remove their structures from the vicinity of the tracks or the “City Hall of Poi Pet will take legal actions without being responsible for any lost or damage to your properties or belongings.” This notice was provided to communities one day before the deadline.  The 22 families have pending complaints about compensation offered to them as part of the Project’s resettlement.

If this notice is acted upon by the authorities, it will amount to a forced eviction in contravention of international covenants. According to General Comment 7: The Right to Adequate Housing: Forced Evictions,  “forced eviction” refers to the “permanent or temporary removal against their will of individuals, families, and/or communities from the homes and/or land which they occupy, without the provision of, and access to, appropriate forms or legal or other protection.”   The 22 families should not be required to move until and unless their pending complaints have been resolved.

The overarching objectives of ADB’s Safeguard Policies are to “avoid, or when avoidance is not possible, to minimize and mitigate adverse project impacts on the environment and people . . . “  According to ADB Policy, its staff must ensure that Borrower Governments comply with requirements set out in the Safeguard Policy throughout the entire Project cycle, thus placing an onus  to comply with the host country’s social and environmental laws and regulations, including those laws implementing host country obligations under international law.  Thus, a forced eviction in this matter would be tantamount to a clear violation of the policy, as well as international human rights treaties to which Cambodia is a signatory.

Moreover, providing notice to residents just one day before the deadline denies these residents of due process and procedural protections that must be afforded to them under the law, not the least of which includes adequate and reasonable notice for affected persons prior to the scheduled date of eviction.

To address the above issues, the undersigned organisations call upon the ADB and AusAID to request the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) conducts a public investigation into the conduct of the local authorities in Trapeang Anchang, and redouble their efforts to ensure adequate living standards, including a secure living environment and access to appropriate health care, are achieved at the site.

With respect to the impending eviction notice in Poi Pet, should it be acted upon, the undersigned organisations call on the ADB and AusAID to temporarily suspend all further work on and fund transfers (excluding those related directly to addressing harms caused affected families) to the project, until agreement with the RGC regarding strict adherence to resettlement safeguards and basic human rights is achieved.

-ENDS-

Media Enquiries:

 

Eang Vuthy, Program Manager for the Development Watch Program, BABC – 012 791 700, vuthy@babcambodia.org (Khmer, English)

Nora Lindstrom, Programme Development Manager, STT – 015 552 805, nora@teangtnaut.org (English)

Sia Phearum, Secretariat Director, HRTF – 012 852 325, sd@hrtfcambodia.org (Khmer, English)

Am Sam Ath, Technical Supervisor, LICADHO – 012 327 770, mon1@licadho-cambodia.org (Khmer)