IDI is working with local partners in Cambodia to support communities who have been involuntarily resettled to make way for the rehabilitation of Cambodia’s railway system. The resettled families are experiencing severe hardships, including unmanageable indebtedness, loss of income and lack of access to basic services, as they are made to bear the externalized costs of this major infrastructure project. The Rehabilitation of the Railway in Cambodia Project is financed primarily by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) through a USD 84 million concessional loan and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), which is contributing USD 23 million in aid. IDI is working to support the communities to advocate for the full respect of their rights under ADB and AusAID safeguard policies, Cambodian law and international human rights treaties.
The Cambodian Government is bound to comply with ADB’s Policy on Involuntary Resettlement in relation to the more than 4000 families whose homes and small businesses are in the path of the rail lines and planned railway stations. The central principle of the policy is to provide sufficient compensation and assistance to ensure that displaced people are made at least as well-off after resettlement as compared to their previous living standards, with poor and vulnerable people supported so that their lives are improved. The Government is also bound by its international law obligations to ensure that it fully respects and protects the human rights of these families. It is obliged to use development projects such as this as an opportunity to improve the standard of living of affected people who were previously living in sub-standard conditions. This obligation includes guaranteeing that people have access to adequate housing, including all basic services and facilities, upon resettlement. As financiers of the project, the ADB and the Australian Government have a duty to monitor, supervise and support the resettlement process to ensure compliance with the policy and human rights obligations.
The reality, however, is that the Cambodian Government, the ADB and AusAID, have routinely ignored the policy and legal obligations, as well as the warnings and evidence provided by affected communities and NGOs. As a result of these transgressions, many resettled families now face destitution. The report, DERAILED, published by NGO Bridges Across Borders Cambodia (now Equitable Cambodia) in February 2012, which was co-authored by IDI Associate Natalie Bugalski, found that affected families faced threats and intimidation during the resettlement process and that compensation amounts were well below the cost of a basic adequate house in Cambodia. Some of the resettlement sites were too far away from former residences, urban centers and livelihood opportunities. This economic displacement of resettled families led to a drop in household incomes, exacerbating the financial stress caused by the payment of inadequate compensation. Promised income restoration support programs only commenced months after resettlement took place and were piecemeal and ineffective. Families have been forced to assume unmanageable debt burdens in order to cope with their displacement and they fear losing their plots of land at resettlement sites to creditors as a result. Many people have said that despite being aware of the risks of indebtedness they felt they had no choice but to borrow to meet the basic needs of their families including food.
Request to the ADB Compliance Review Panel
On August 28, 2012, IDI submitted a request for investigation of the resettlement process to the Compliance Review Panel (CRP), the ADB’s internal accountability mechanism, on behalf of affected families who have asked IDI to represent them through the process. The CRP will investigate and determine whether the ADB has complied with its operational policies and procedures in relation to the railways project, and whether any non-compliance has resulted in harm to resettled families. After conducting its investigation, the CRP will issue its final report on the case to the ADB Board with its findings and recommendations to ensure the project is brought back into compliance with ADB Policy, including through remedial actions.
IDI hopes that this request for compliance review leads to a timely remediation of all harms suffered by project-affected people, as well as a shift in the way institutions like ADB and AusAID do business to ensure that the projects they finance do not harm the very people who are most in need of development benefits and least equipped to shoulder its costs.