Private businesses and the government are responsible for the abuse of human rights in Cambodia by carrying out economically motivated land evictions that benefit the rich and political elite, according to a report released by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights yesterday.
“The [Royal Government of Cambodia] has repeatedly failed to discharge its duty to protect citizens from human rights abuses by businesses,” says the report, “Business and Human Rights in Cambodia.”
“A number of Cambodian businesses have shown a blatant lack of respect for human rights and most remedial mechanisms are underdeveloped, ineffective and/or corrupt.”
The report says that evictions are regularly carried out by Cambodian armed forces and police and that the granting of land concessions and redevelopment contracts takes place under a” veil of secrecy.”
“Businesses violate the land rights of Cambodians with alarming regularity, and the system of land concessions and development contracts granted by the [Royal Government of Cambodia] is not merely failing to prevent this, it is being used as a tool to permit and exacerbate these violations,” the report states.
The report specifically details the activities of nine companies responsible for illegally enforced evictions in Cambodia over the past decade.
Those companies include Pheapimex Co Ltd, whose director is CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin. Pheapimex has been granted concessions totaling 316,000 hectares in Kompong Chhnang and Pursat provinces for agricultural products.
The company has evicted hundreds of families dating back to 2000. As recently as October, villagers in Pursat’s Krakor district’s Chhoeu Tom commune set up a roadblock to stop a truck carrying company workers.
The report also highlights the activities of Shukaku Inc-another company directed by Mr Meng Khin-which is developing the Boeng Kak lake area in Phnom Penh.
“While few details about the development have been made public, it is estimated that approximately 20,000 people will be displaced. Included in this figure are the more than 1,000 families that have already been evicted without their land rights being properly adjudicated and acknowledged,” the report states.
Another company mentioned in the report is Wuzhishan, which is backed by Pheapimex, according to a 2006 report by World Rainforest Movement. Wuzhishan was granted a 200,000-hectare economic land concession for a pine tree plantation in 2004 on land inhabited by indigenous Phnong people.
“We are hoping the report will help to add pressure to businesses to begin respecting human rights,” said CCHR President Ou Virak. “Many businesses want to start, but don’t know how, and this may help get to the root of the evil.”
John Brinsden, vice chairman of the International Business Club of Cambodia, said the implementation of more rigorous human rights policies would only benefit businesses.
“There seems to be a realization that human rights is a factor as many counterparties are now insisting that their suppliers, etc, increasingly conform to international standards. So there is a good business reason to do so as well,” he said.
Government officials yesterday said the government was committed to protecting citizens’ rights while spurring economic development.
“We understand that we have some flaws,” said Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers. “People need to be respected, and we will protect human rights…. We also need businesses, and to keep investors happy.”
Keo Remy, spokesman for the National Council for Anticorruption, said the government would not stand any government officials colluding with businesses that engage in corruption.
“Don’t worry about it too much,” he said. “We will not tolerate it.”
(Additional reporting by Hul Reaksmey)