Cambodia's Development Benefits Whom?

Cambodia?s Development Benefits whom?
excerpted from UPI

Yet, while parts of the economy are making considerable progress, more than 30 percent of the population is still living in extreme poverty. Together with corruption and continued human rights violations ? especially the increasing forced evictions and land grabbing under the so-called development claims ? there is little hope that Cambodia can move out of poverty. Thus the question arises: For whom is the Cambodian government attempting to achieve its development goals?

The current pursuit of development by the Royal Government of Cambodia has often brought legal abuses and violations of peoples? rights to housing and development. While the judicial system is corrupt and the state is the main violator of the law, the poor communities are voiceless and powerless.

One example was the eviction of residents of Sambok Chab village on June 6, 2006, which threatened to turn into a serious humanitarian crisis. According to the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, an estimated 6,000 people at a relocation site close to Trapeang Andong village in the Dangkao district were denied the basic rights to food, housing, clean water, public health services and schooling.

More than 1,200 families from Sambok Chab were forcibly relocated to idle rice fields under the supervision of hundreds of armed police and soldiers. Located more than 20 kilometers from their former homes, these people lost their meager means of making a living and many were starving. There was no administration over this site and no security; people dared not leave their small huts for fear that others would take their few belongings.

According to human rights and media observers, on Jan. 24 this year residents of the village of Dey Krahorm were evicted at 2:00 a.m. by over 400 workers from the 7NG Company, a property developer, together with over 300 heavily armed police officers. During this operation, tear gas and heavy machinery including bulldozers were used. Eighteen community members were injured and private property was systematically destroyed.

More than 400 families were reportedly forcibly evicted. Most of them were market stall holders and renters. They were relocated to Damnak Trayeung, 20 kilometers from Phnom Penh, where they set up a makeshift camp on 7NG land beside a road. Some house owners also went to Damnak Trayeung, but others were able to stay temporarily with friends, family or NGOs in Phnom Penh.

The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, or LICADHO, reported a lack of facilities at the relocation site including food, water, shelter, mosquito nets and medical facilities. There are no toilets, forcing people to use open fields or unfinished apartment buildings. These unhygienic conditions are obviously harmful to health.

Despite appeals from local and international organizations, as well as pleas from affected residents, evictions have not stopped. Other communities fear it will soon be their turn. In addition to these evictions in urban areas, there have been many cases of land grabbing in the provinces.

The evictions generally follow a pattern with four characteristics: They are violent, using armed forces, tear gas and heavy machinery to drive people out. They follow illegal procedures, without public consultation, prior announcement or justification. They ignore peoples? right to private property, taking their homes without providing proper compensation or adequate social infrastructure. They are not in the public interest, as most evictions occur on land contracted to private companies in the name of ?development projects,? which often turn out to be shopping malls or multistoried apartment buildings.

The relocated people are not benefitting from such development. Hence, the so-called development projects are merely an excuse to hide the government?s violations of peoples? rights. This must be stopped.

In fact, there are legal guarantees to housing and development. The right to housing is entrenched in a number of international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 25), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Article 11), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Article 3), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Article 14) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 27).

Furthermore, the right to development is an inalienable human right. Equal opportunity for development is a privilege of both nations and of individuals who make up nations.

The Cambodian Constitution (Article 31) states that the government shall recognize and respect human rights as stipulated in the United Nations Charter and other declarations, covenants and conventions related to human, women’s and children’s rights. In addition, the 2001 Cambodian Land Law ensures the right to private ownership of land and prohibits violent, forceful eviction.

The government must abide by its own Constitution and laws.
In principle, people strongly support the government?s development plans and recognize its right to sell land to private companies that can develop it according to the public interest. Yet the government also has the obligation to protect its citizens and their fundamental rights to adequate housing and the means to make a living.

To protect these rights, the government should propose onsite development plans rather than opting to evict poor villagers in the name of city development. If evictions are necessary, the residents should be informed and consulted beforehand. They should be fairly compensated for their property, and relocation sites should include sufficient infrastructure for the people to live in dignity and earn income for themselves and their families.

Most importantly, the government?s master plan must be presented to the public. It is a crucial part of a democratic system for the people to be aware of their country?s development plans.

(Chak Sopheap is a graduate student of peace studies at the International University of Japan. She runs a blog,, on which she shares her impressions of both Japan and her homeland, Cambodia. She was previously advocacy officer of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. ?Copyright Chak Sopheap.)

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