On June 25, the private firm buying 1.35 hectares in Phnom Penh’s contentious Boeng Kak lake neighborhood claimed, incredibly, to have no knowledge of the site’s internationally recognized land dispute (“Firm Buying Boeng Kak Land Claims No Knowledge of Evictions,” June 26).
D’Lotus Development, a subsidiary of the Singapore-based firm HLH Group, is buying the land from Shukaku Inc., which in 2007 won a 99-year lease to 133 hectares of the Boeng Kak lake area in central Phnom Penh. About 3,000 families have now been forcibly evicted from their homes to make way for the firm’s development project.
HLH Group’s CEO and executive deputy chairman, Johnny Ong Bee Haut, who denied knowledge of the land dispute in an interview, has been working in Cambodia for the past six years. It is extremely hard to imagine a scenario in which Mr. Ong would have been able to remain ignorant of such a high profile and controversial land dispute.
The international response to the case of Boeng Kak Lake has been remarkable. In 2010, the World Bank stated it would suspend funding to Cambodia until the Boeng Kak conflict had been resolved. The numerous high-profile protests that have followed the evictions, which have been violently suppressed by the authorities, have been widely reported by local and international media.
The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights state that in all contexts, business enterprises should “comply with all applicable laws and respect internationally recognized human rights, wherever they operate.”
Shukaku has clearly violated residents’ land rights by acquiring land while residents claimed possession rights, filling the lake with sand, and causing serious flooding and damage to many homes.
It is clear that if HLH Group completes the purchase, it would be complicit with the contraventions of Cambodian law and the long list of rights violations that Shukaku has committed. Even if by some miracle Mr. Ong had managed to remain ignorant of the dispute during his six years in Cambodia, he and the rest of HLH Group had a responsibility to have known before agreeing to purchase the land. It is clear that HLH Group is dismissing ethics in the name of business.
Chak Sopheap, executive director, Cambodian Center for Human Rights