Human rights organisations are accusing Cambodia's government of discriminating against a group of families infected with HIV/Aids forced to move to a newly constructed "Aids village" outside of the capital, Phnom Penh.
Health organisations say the government has essentially created a pariah community.
Al Jazeera's Steve Chao reports.
Saturday, 1 August 2009
Human rights organisations are accusing Cambodia's government of discriminating against a group of families infected with HIV/Aids forced to move to a newly constructed "Aids village" outside of the capital, Phnom Penh.
Flooded Mekong River bank that caused a house to collapse in Koh Norea village of a downtown Phnom Penh
The WHO said signs that can signal a progression to severe disease include shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, turning blue, bloody or colored sputum, chest pain, altered mental status, high fever lasting more than 3 days, and low blood pressure.
In addition, particular danger signs in children include fast or difficult breathing, lack of alertness, difficulty in waking up, and little or no desire to play, the agency said.
Because a patient's condition can worsen very quickly, medical attention should be sought when any of the warning signs appear, the WHO advised.
The agency noted that most patients continue to have mild symptoms and recover fully within a week, but a few people, usually younger than 50, rapidly progress to severe and often fatal illness. "No factors that can predict this pattern of severe disease have yet been identified, though studies are under way," the statement said.
Regarding pregnant women, the WHO noted a US study published this week in The Lancet that showed an increased risk of severe or fatal H1N1 disease in this group. Several other countries also have noted an increased risk for pregnant women and a higher risk of fetal death or spontaneous abortion, the agency said.
"WHO strongly recommends that, in areas where infection with the H1N1 virus is widespread, pregnant women, and the clinicians treating them, be alert to symptoms of influenza-like illness," the statement said.
The agency said pregnant women should be treated with oseltamivir as soon as possible after symptom onset and should be a priority group for immunization.
In other comments, the WHO said monitoring of viruses from multiple outbreaks has revealed no evidence of a change in the virus's ability to spread or cause severe illness.
Jul 31 WHO statement
Jul 29 CIDRAP News story "Study on pandemic flu risks in pregnancy finds antiviral treatment delays"
HANOI — A watchdog has kicked off a study to look at proposed hydropower developments on the Mekong River and their impact on the tens of millions of people living along it, officials said Friday.
The probe has been launched to help countries affected by the projects decide whether they want to go ahead with them.
The results are expected by July or August next year, Damian Kean, spokesman for the Mekong River Commission (MRC) secretariat in Laos, told AFP.
While hydropower is already used to generate electricity on the river's tributaries, the private sector has not in the past seriously considered using the mainstream, the MRC said in a press release.
Eleven schemes are being studied by Cambodia, Laos and Thailand but in China, where the Mekong is known as the Lancang River, there are already eight existing or planned mainstream dams, the MRC said.
The Commission is an intergovernmental body that deals with all river-related activities including fisheries, agriculture and flood management.
Increased interest in building hydropower dams in the mainstream lower Mekong River basin means the MRC is now "faced with perhaps its most important strategic challenge" since its founding in 1995, Jeremy Bird, chief executive officer of the MRC secretariat, said in the statement.
China is not a member of the MRC but attended annual meetings with its four MRC neighbours this week in Laos and the Commission said it had expressed a willingness to provide experts for the study.
"I think it's very significant," Kean said. "They're a dialogue partner and I think that signifies that they're taking the concerns of the downstream countries reasonably seriously."
More than 60 million people in the lower Mekong basin depend on the river system for food, transport and economic activity, the MRC said, adding that it is home to the world's most valuable inland fishery.
Saturday, August 1, 2009
Cambodian expert says on war crime
Emran Hossain and Farhana Urmee Legal Adviser to Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia Constanze Oehlrich yesterday said assistance from international communities for evidence and investigation is necessary to ensure legitimate and transparent trial of war crimes.
It is very difficult to investigate such a large-scale crime and Cambodia needs to have additional capacity and support to make the trial legitimate and transparent, she said describing the Cambodian model.
“There is international experience in trying war criminals across the globe. In dealing with such a huge issue you need to be very pragmatic; you need to coordinate and organise the evidence,” said Constanze Oehlrich.
Oehlrich, who is visiting Bangladesh currently to attend the “2nd international conference on genocide, truth and justice,” expressed the view while explaining several features of Cambodian model for trial of war criminals with The Daily Star.
EU Parliament Member Helmut Scholz on Thursday said, “A legal analysis similar to the Cambodian model combined with international support is highly recommended for Bangladesh.”
Explaining the Cambodian model of court she said the Cambodian trial was backed by the United Nations. She mentioned that the Cambodian court was a mixed court involving judges from both national and international communities.
She mentioned that there was both national and international funding in Cambodian court.
“We have two prosecutors -- one is national and the other is international. We have both national judges and international judges. In case of taking decision both the national and international judges have to take decision unanimously,” she said.
She said that the trial of war criminals in Cambodia is divided into three parts---pre-trial, trial and Supreme Court chamber -- and majority of the judges are national.
There are, however, international judges in each step of the courts, she said.
“Decision in every step must be taken after getting super votes---like four votes out of five,” she added.
For example, if a decision is to be taken by the pre-trial court, which is consisted of five judges -- three Cambodian and two international judges, four judges must approve the decision.
She cited an example saying that Cambodian president at one stage ordered not to expand trial and limit it within the five accused. Later an international judge felt the necessity of conducting investigation against six more and then the matter was forwarded to pre-trial court for hearing.
She said it is tough to arrange a trial after 38 years of the incident. Newspaper reports can be used as written evidence and there are accounts of witnesses too.
Sharing her experience of work in the trial of war criminals in Cambodia Constanze said that there is a documentation centre in Cambodia, which has been collecting information soon after the killings in Cambodia.
She explained that the centre even visited countryside taking interviews and accounts of witnesses.
She and Nafia Tasmin Din, Victim's Unit, Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, said that there are individual groups in Bangladesh who collected information after the Liberation War and that can be used during trial as evidence.
The genocide tribunal in Cambodia backed by UN began holding its first historic trial on November 20, 2007, 30 years into the killing of 1.7 million people, nearly a quarter of the Cambodian population.
Having emerged from years of international isolation, residents of coastal Sihanoukville town in Cambodia welcomed Doulos crew with open arms during the ship’s recent visit there.
The crew who had spent months praying and preparing for the 18-day visit. As Doulos approached the coast and pulled into port, the crew had high expectations of all God would do.
The country’s Minister of Tourism, So Mara, was present at the quayside as the ship docked and the gangways were lowered. Along with Sbong Sarath, Governor of Sihanouk Province, he wanted to personally welcome the crew into port.
Following Doulos’ first-ever visit to Cambodia in 2007, there is now a Cambodian serving among the all-volunteer Christian crew.
The ship arrived with donations of medical supplies and educational resources from churches in Hong Kong and Taiwan responded generously.
With Doulos docked in Cambodia for over two weeks, the gifts were distributed to needy communities across the country, with orphans, schoolchildren and the sick among the many to benefit.
Back on board, the ship’s educational and Christian book fair was also busy, as thousands of people came to chose from the titles on offer.
After departing Sihanoukville on Tuesday, Doulos headed to Bangkok in neighbouring Thailand. The ship is already attracting considerable media interest there following news that a member of the royal family will visit.
On the other side of the world, Doulos’ sister ship, Logos Hope, has completed a highly successful visit to the UK and is now serving impoverished communities in the Caribbean region.
Cambodian national airline -- Cambodia Angkor Air -- or CAA has been launched as a joint venture between Vietnam and Cambodia. The ceremony took place at Pochentong International Airport in Phnom Penh.
With the help of Vietnam Airlines, Cambodia launched the new national carrier, a 100-million-US-dollar venture with 3 aircraft, in a bid to boost the country's tourism sector.
Cambodia will hold 51 percent of CAA, and Vietnam the rest.
The airline will operate domestic flights from Cambodia's capital of Phnom Penh... to Siem Reap, site of the Angkor temples, the country's biggest tourism destination. And also to the coastal tourist town of Sihanoukville.
CAA is also looking to expand commercial flights to Vietnam and neighboring Laos. And the company expects to increase its fleet to 10 by 2015.
Cambodia's tourism sector contributes about 13 percent of the country's GDP. It also welcomes about 2 million tourists every year.
Cambodia has had no national carrier since Royal Air Cambodge went bankrupt in 2001.
31 Jul 2009
Leopard Capital, a Cambodian private equity firm, has completed the fourth deal from its $27m debut vehicle Leopard Cambodia Fund by investing $2m in Kingdom Breweries.
LCF will acquire a 55.5 per cent share of the brewery for its investment.
The company, a Cambodian beer brewer, believes that with half the country’s population under the legal drinking age limit, consumption should shoot up over the next five to ten years.
Kingdom Breweries aims to secure a foothold by producing high-quality craft beer in a microbrewery in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh.
The fund’s previous transactions include a $1m investment in Greenside Holdings, which is part of a consortium of investors that is refurbishing, designing, constructing and commissioning a rural power transmission and distribution system.
LCF has also put $1.8m into Cambodia Plantations, a Singapore-based company which serves as an offshore finance vehicle for agricultural investments in central Cambodia.
The Leopard Cambodia Fund was launched in March 2008 and is targeting sectors in the financial services, agriculture, food and beverage production, building materials, tourism, and property development in the south-east Asian country.
The Kandal Provincial Governor Was Blamed by the Prime Minister for Being Lazy in Constructing Roads – Friday, 31.7.2009
The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 623
“Phnom Penh: The prime minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia, Samdech Akkak Moha Senapadei Dekchor Hun Sen, used serious words on 31 July 2009 at a closing conference to sum up the task of the Ministry of Tourism, and Samdech warned the Kandal provincial governor Chhun Sirun over his negligence, not repairing roads and the river bank in Kandal.
“Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen said, ‘Since a long time, the riverbank was not repaired, but just now when the water rises, they get started. Now the water broke some parts of the riverbank, and I almost want to hit the Kandal provincial governor one day. After I phoned him and gave an order, the work started – if I had not phoned, nothing would happen.’
“Besides such serious warnings towards the Kandal Governor Chhun Sirun, Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen praised the Battambang governor, Mr. Prach Chan, who has frequently asked for funds to improve and repair many public recreational places and parks.
“Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen also repeated his previous recommendation to look at the roads. Samdech explained, ‘When I say again to look at the roads, that means: first, there must not be illegal check-points along the roads, and second, if the road is damaged, it must be repaired.
“His warning is not only aimed at the Kandal provincial governor, Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen encouraged also other governors in Cambodia to be highly responsible in repairing roads in their respective regions, and they should build more recreational places without waiting for the prime minister to shout and give orders before they take any initiative.
“Moreover, Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen instructed again all authorities on all levels not to sell any pre-schools or children’s playgrounds for whatever other purpose, they should be kept as state property.”
Deum Ampil, Vol.3, #250, 31.7.2009
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Friday, 31 July 2009
Original report from Phnom Penh
31 July 2009
The Khmer Rouge tribunal on Wednesday rejected two segments of documentary film provided by the Vietnamese government from the regime’s 1979 ouster, claiming it had gathered enough evidence in the atrocity crimes trial for Duch.
Duch’s notorious Tuol Sleng prison was liberated by Vietnamese forces in January 1979, as combat camera crews recorded the conditions of the facility as they entered. Tribunal prosecutors had entered the films as evidence, but the Trial Chamber of the UN-backed court said Wednesday it would not use them.
“The Trial Chamber finds that the footage in question is likely to have little impact on the trial, as the information it is supposed to provide has already been established though other testimonies and evidence,” according to the court decision. “The Trial Chamber also finds that verification of the reliability of the footage is unlikely to be obtained within a reasonable time.”
The first segment of the footage depicts the overview scenes of the interior of the compound of S-21, including of various types of cells and restraints, as well as images of decapitated corpses chained to beds. The second shows Vietnamese troops helping surviving children leave the prison.
Duch, 66, whose real name is Kaing Kek Iev, is undergoing an atrocity crimes trial for his role as administrator of the prison and torture center, where prosecutors say 12,380 people were sent to the their deaths. He has been on trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity, trial and murder since March 30.
Long Panhavuth, a program officer of Justice Initiative in Cambodia, part of the Open Society Justice Initiative, said the court did not need to add evidence that could slow down the proceedings.
By Nuch Sarita, VOA Khmer
Original report from Long Beach
31 July 2009
Thirteen years ago, Christopher LaPel, a Cambodian pastor for the Golden West Christian Church in Los Angeles and a founding leader of the Cambodian Christian Church in northwest Cambodia, baptized a man he believed to be a teacher in Battambang province.
In fact, the newly converted was Kaing Kek Iev, better known as Comrade Duch, chief of the Khmer Rouge’s torture center, Tuol Sleng. Duch is now facing trial at the UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal, where he has admitted to responsibility for mass torture and killings.
In a recent interview with VOA Khmer, LaPel described his relationship with Duch, who at the time called himself Hang Pin.
“I first met Duch in 1995,” LaPel said, speaking after a reunion of churchgoers in Long Beach. “He came to me and said, ‘Pastor Christopher, I have done a lot of bad things. I don’t think my brothers and sisters can forgive me.’”
Duch came with a colleague to take part in a two-week Christian leadership traingin course, in the village of Chamkar Samrong, Battambang, LaPel said. The man was quiet at first.
“He said he was not a believer but had come at the urging of a friend,” LaPel said.
Hang Pin, or Duch, would listen to LaPel’s services, and eventually he asked to be baptized.
“On Jan. 5, 1996, I baptized Hang Pin, along with many other believers, in the Sangke river in Battambang town,” LaPel said.
Christopher LaPel and Duch's mother in Siem Reap
The pastor returned to the leadership training the following year, but he did not ses Hang Pin. Then, in 1999, he did, in the news.
“In May of 1999, I saw this picture in every Cambodian newspaper,” LaPel said. “The man responsible for the deaths of up to 20,000 of my people now claimed to be a Christian, and I had unknowingly led him in.”
“An [Associated Press] reporters in Cambodia called me to inform me of Duch’s true identity,” he said. “As the reporter described him, I remembered than man I knew as Hang Pin—a short, thin, soft-spoken man in his fifties, and decidedly well-educated, as he spoke both English and French.”
“When he took part in our leadership training, he told me he was a teacher. I had no reason to doubt him. Reporters contacted me with media inquiries on his conversion and many asked me how was it possible for me to forgive such a man as Duch.”
Duch had been arrested and would be held by a military court until the UN-backed tribunal was established. He was transferred to the special court in July 2007.
“I was shocked when I found out who he really was, because what he did was so evil,” said LaPel, whose parents, brother and sister died under the Khmer Rouge.
Christopher LaPel points at a photo of Duch at S-21.
Duch is now on trial for the deaths of 12,380 people. He has admitted responsibility and apologized to the families of his victims, though he has never admitted doing any killing himself.
“He came here and he asked permission to pray for those victims who died,” LaPel said. “He has a strong religious faith and is ready to testify. He would like to tell the truth, the whole truth, for what he did to his people.”
Since his arrest, LaPel has gone to see him twice, and he calls Duch a model convert. LaPel believes Duch has confessed his sins and is willing to stand witness against other former leaders of the regime now in custody at the tribunal.
In fact, LaPel said, a growing number of former Khmer Rouge have begun converting to Christianity. In Pailin, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold, has several Christian churches, and about 200 converts, he said.
Original report from Washington
31 July 2009
Venerable Nhem Kim Teng recently traveled to the US from India to chant at the second-year funeral ceremony of the revered monk Maha Ghosananda. Nhem Kim Teng, who is studying for a PhD in Buddhism, traveled to Lowell, Mass., to pay his respects to Maha Ghosanada, the man whom he had accompanied on numerous peace marches in the past.
Accompanied by several monks, he also traveled to Washington DC, saying in a recent studio interview that Buddhism retained an important role in social development, education, environmentalism and morality.
Maha Ghosananda was a revered figure in Cambodia’s peace movements over the decades, and his 2007 death was felt throughout the country’s political and religious landscapes.
Nhem Kim Teng said that while he was helping Maha Ghosananda for the Thoamayeatra peace march, he formed an NGO called Sonte Sena, which “gathered volunteer monks and laymen to educate the public on the importance of a good environment, particularly the preservation of the forest, the planting of trees and the preservation of biodiversity.”
He decided to deck the trees in robes, something he learned from Cambodia’s history.
“In the old days, they respected big trees as powerful trees,” he said. “They robed them and chanted sermons to give spirit to the trees.”
Nhem Kim Teng and his group did the same, sermonizing to the spirits of trees “as if we put a man through the monkhood.”
On education, Nhem Kim Teng said more than 60 monks have now gone to learn Buddhism in India, with four studying at New Dehli University. He himself is at work on his dissertation.
Nhem Kim Teng said Buddhism plays very important roles. Pagodas not only give shelter to poor students from rural areas, but they offer a place to learn, as well.
“Buddhism has five main principles of good deeds: to avoid killing and robbing others, avoid telling lies, avoid alcohol and drug abuse,” he said.
Nhem Kim Teng appealed for laymen to carefully consider belief in so-called magic monks, some of whom make money to prepare themselves to quit the monkhood and get married. Having too much money, some monks abuse Buddhist principles, such as having sex, drinking or debauchery.
“Well, there are some such practices; we cannot deny it,” he said. “Believers shouldn’t encourage such practices of magic for individual benefit. They should change the direction of their offers, for the education of monks, for common profits, or public infrastructure.”
Nhem Kim Teng also worried that the division of monks along political lines could weaken Buddhism.
“Monks must stayed neutral and stay off political lines, like the king, so that Buddhism can continue to earn respect from all sides,” he said. “Monks must shift from too much expression of political views to focus on their views on education and social development.”
Original report from Phnom Penh
31 July 2009
Banteay Meanchey provincial court released 26 people on bail Friday, but upheld charges against them for violence in a Poipet land dispute.
Police initially arrested 22 men and nine women on July 24 as they pushed them from their land, following a decision by the Supreme Court in a land dispute between two groups of villagers.
All 31 have been charged with destruction of property, incitement and attempted murder, after they battled with local security forces, throwing gasoline bombs, acid and stones, in an attempt to stay on their land.
Two men were released on Sunday under the control of court authorities, and three men remain in the provincial jail.
“Banteay Meanchey court decided to allow the 26 accused to remain out of detention in a verdict on July 29,” according to a decision by investigating judges Ang Mealtey and Soeng Kuch.
The 26 will be required to appear in court when summoned, the judges said.
Oun Ranhya, a 24-year-old defendant released Friday, said the decision was just, “because we lost our land and houses, and the court detained us.”
“We have lived on this land for nearly 20 years,” he said.
He appealed to the court to drop all charges against the villagers.
Sum Chankea, a local coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said the villagers were being charged with both civil and penal laws. He said they should only be charged with penal offenses, and should not have been released on bail, because the villagers don’t understand the verdict of the court or the law.
Also Included In: MRSA / Drug Resistance
Article Date: 31 Jul 2009
Artemisinin, the "basis of the most effective" malaria treatment recommended by the WHO, took nearly twice as long to clear malaria parasites in patients in western Cambodia than it did in patients in northwestern Thailand, according to a New England Journal of Medicine study, which shows the "drugs are losing their power against the disease in Cambodia," Bloomberg reports (Bennett, 7/30).
For the study, researchers at the Wellcome Trust-Mahidol University Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Program "compared the effects of artemisinin drugs in 40 malaria patients in western Cambodia and 40 patients in northwestern Thailand. On average, the patients in Thailand were clear of malaria parasites within 48 hours, compared to 84 hours for the Cambodian patients," according to HealthDay News/U.S. News & World Report (7/29).
"We do not see 100 percent resistance, but the parasite is much less susceptible to artemisinin than we are used to. If used in combination with other drugs we can still cure malaria but it takes a few days longer," Arjen Dondorp, the leader of the study, said, the Telegraph reports (Leach, 7/30).
For decades, scientists have known that the area near Cambodia's border with Thailand, "is a breeding ground for drug-resistant malaria," according to Nature News (Sanderson, 7/29). Chloroquine "started to fail there in the 1950s and 1960s, before becoming ineffective elsewhere, according to the study. The WHO ... is coordinating efforts to prevent artemisinin-resistant malaria from spreading to Africa, which has 90 percent of the world's cases of the disease," Bloomberg writes (7/30). In an accompanying NEJM editorial, PATH's Carlos Campbell, who was not involved the study, writes "that the results leave no question that there is artemisinin resistance in western Cambodia," according to ScienceNow (Vogel, 7/29).
In a separate study published in the same issue of NEJM, scientists used "chloroquine to protect people while gradually exposing them to malaria parasites and letting immunity develop," according to the AP/Washington Post. "The results were astounding: Everyone in the vaccine group acquired immunity to malaria; everyone in a non-vaccinated comparison group did not, and developed malaria when exposed to the parasites later," the AP/Washington Post writes.
"The study was done in a lab at Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and was funded by two foundations and a French government grant," according to the news service. While, a "vaccine that uses modified live parasites just entered human testing," this particular study "was only a small proof-of-principle test, and its approach is not practical on a large scale similar," according to AP/Washington Post (Marchione, 7/30).
This information was reprinted from globalhealth.kff.org with kind permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Global Health Policy Report, search the archives and sign up for email delivery at globalhealth.kff.org.
© Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
PHNOM PENH, July 31 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia's Council of Ministers on Friday approved a sub-decree of new co-ownership regulations, allowing legal ownership of individual apartments or condominium ownership, which paves the way for a law allowing foreign ownership of some property.
The new co-ownership regulations will make it possible to own units within a larger building without having title to the land it's on, according to the press release from the weekly meeting of the Council of Ministers which was presided over by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
"Its objects will guarantee to protect rights of legal holders in apartments or condominiums for co-ownership," it said, adding that it will facilitate to management work of co-ownership of apartments and co-owners who live in the apartments or condominiums.
Moreover, the new regulations will also facilitate co-ownership for sale, exchange, donation, in-heritage, permanent rent, and collateralizing of the private parts as personal ownership. The sub-decree, with seven charters and 27 articles, has large coverage for exercising all kinds of the apartments and condominiums across the country.
"This sub-decree will be applied in the country soon and local people who bought the houses in the apartments, condominiums and skyscrapers blocks will know about the rights and ownership," Nun Pheany, spokeswoman for Ministry of Land Management, Urban planning and Construction, told Xinhua.
The foreigners have not had rights to own Cambodian land or housing so far. They could rent for doing their business or staying only, she stressed.
"In the near future, we will have a law on the foreign ownership of Cambodian land and housing. My ministry and Ministry of Justice are discussing to compose that draft law in accordance with our constitution," she said.
"By that law, the foreigners, perhaps, could own above the first floor for apartments or condominiums, even though, we need to discuss more details," she said.
However, Nun Pheany said the foreigners would not be allowed to buy the land near borders with neighboring countries because it could affect national sovereignty and which is also prohibited by the law.
She said that when foreign title law is to be approved, it will help increase the foreign investment and contribute to economic growth in the country.
Editor: Li Shuncheng
©John Vink/ Magnum
By Laurent Le Gouanvic
Despite repeated condemnations from civil society and international community, the list of victims of forced evictions in Cambodia has kept growing. In July, several removal operations took place in Phnom Penh. After the residents of Dey Krohom in central Phnom Penh, whose houses were smashed to dust in January, their neighbours in Group 78, located in the Tonle Bassac area, were forced to leave their homes on July 17th. Similarly, several dozen families in Borei Keila, the majority of which carry HIV/AIDS and require healthcare, were relocated in successive rounds to the outskirts of the Cambodian capital in unsatisfying conditions, according to local NGOs. Again, protests multiplied, whether from the World Bank, donor countries, international media or online networks, while authorities continue to turn a deaf ear.
A video, shot in the morning of July 17th in the area known as Group 78 in Phnom Penh, and broadcast on the website of Cambodian human rights organisation Licadho, leaves an impression of déjà-vu: the same dusk bluish light, the same noises of tearing down corrugated iron, the same images of dozens of young workers in red shirts and equipped with pickaxes and bars as during the eviction on January 24th of Dey Krohom residents. But this time, no cries or violence: most of the approximately sixty families of Group 78 resigned themselves to leave and dismantled themselves their wood and metal houses, before security forces and hired workers intervened. The previous day, according to Licadho, they had ended up accepting a compensation of 8,000 dollars, supposed to allow them to find new housing. In the morning of July 17th 2009, human rights activists who were present reported that only a few resisting families had not taken down their houses. After a few hours of negotiations, they yielded as well, for an ultimate compensation of 20,000 dollars, Licadho specified, except for one family who allegedly refused to leave until the end and therefore saw their house be torn down against their will.
A dispute that ends without violence
This last episode put an end to a dispute that started more than three years ago between this Phnom Penh community on one side and, on the other, the municipal authorities and private company Sour Srun, who was granted the area under a concession for a real estate project. The case did not end in violence, as the residents eventually received compensation, but it nonetheless “represents another violation of the basic human rights of the people of Cambodia,” according to Dan Nicholson, coordinator of NGO COHRE (Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions), quoted in a joint statement by several Cambodian organisations, published on the very day of Group 78’s eviction.
Voluntary… by force
Yet, the Municipality praised itself for not resorting to violence, alleging that Group 78 families left of their own free will and will receive food aid in addition to financial compensation. The fallacy of the argument was denounced by Yeng Virak, executive director of CLEC, who also signed the statement, together with NGO Housing Rights Task Force and the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR): “The authorities cannot claim that what happened at Group 78 this morning, and over the past months and years, was 'voluntary' on the part of the residents. The families of Group 78 were never given any real choice - they were just subjected to a campaign of intimidation and threats by the authorities, which lasted for years, in order to wear them down into submission.”
23,000 people evicted in 2008, according to Amnesty International
Amnesty International, who also condemned this eviction against these families, some of which had “started moving into the area on the riverfront in 1983,” stressed that the procedure should have respected the 2001 Land Law and the judicial overview it requires, instead of a simple administrative decision by the Municipality of Phnom Penh, who took into account neither the opinion of people concerned nor alternatives suggested so their basic rights be respected. For the London-based organisation, this was yet another such violation in Cambodia: “In 2008 alone, Amnesty International received reports about 27 forced evictions, affecting an estimated 23,000 people.” Its calls for a moratorium on all mass evictions have fallen on deaf ears.
Series of official condemnations
Also ignored were the requests from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik, who had officially asked the Cambodian government on several occasions to prevent new evictions, particularly against Group 78.
Phnom Penh (Cambodia). 03/06/2009: Group 78 residents, neighbours of Dey Krohom, had gradually anticipated their upcoming eviction
©John Vink/ Magnum
Similarly, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the European Commission delegation, the German, Australian, Bulgarian, Danish, U.S. and British embassies, as well as the Swedish and Danish development agencies (SIDA and DANIDA), did not influence the Cambodian authorities, although they published, on July 16th, a joint statement calling the government of Cambodia “to stop forced evictions from disputed areas in Phnom Penh and elsewhere in the country until a fair and transparent mechanism for resolving land disputes is put in place and a comprehensive resettlement policy is developed.”
Media and Internet
Also in July, British radio BBC World Service devoted a 25-minute broadcast to forced evictions in Cambodia. It highlighted, among others, the case of residents in the area of Boeung Kak lake, in the heart of Phnom Penh, which is currently being filled and progressively cleared of the shacks to make way for a large private real estate project.
On the network devoted to forced evictions in Cambodia on social networking website Facebook, petitions and calls have multiplied to denounce human rights violations and raise awareness with the widest audience possible.
Worse than refugee camps
Not only have these calls proved vain regarding the fate of Group 78 families, but they did not allow to stop other ongoing developments. Families living in temporary shelters for over two years – most of which carry HIV/AIDS and are taking antiretroviral medication – and waiting for social housing in Borei Keila district, in central Phnom Penh, were again moved to Tuol Sambo, a district located over twenty kilometres from city centre and devoid of running water or adequate sanitation. A first group of about twenty families had been brought there in June. A second group followed at the end of July. The organisation Human Rights Watch described how in the site, families live in metal sheds “that are baking hot in the daytime” and have only difficult access to the healthcare essential to their survival. Too crowded and hot, “flanked by open sewers” and provided with only one well, the substandard housing is reported “to not meet minimum international standards for even temporary emergency housing,” as stressed in an open letter signed by over a hundred international organisations working on health, HIV/AIDS and justice (Act-Up, AIDS…).
The same signatories also denounced the lack of transparency in the system of allocation of social housing in Borei Keila, which HIV-affected families applied for but were denied by the authorities. Several of them reportedly ended up having their request granted, but remain in uncertainty and have no written commitment for the time being.
Discrimination in addition?
Finally, the organisations expressed concern about possible discrimination against the families evicted from Borei Keila, while the Cambodian government has been praised for its efforts in the fight against AIDS and for a greater access to prevention and care. Adjacent to the site where they were relocated in Tuol Sambo, there are brick houses equipped with sanitation facilities which are intended for other “relocated” families. The unsanitary site where HIV-affected families were resettled was already called by neighbouring residents the “AIDS village.”
The situation, called by Licadho an “epidemic” of land-grabbing, remains very worrying in Phnom Penh, but also in remote areas in the Kingdom. The financial crisis does not seem to have dented the lust for land, despite a relative slowdown in speculation. It also failed, for the time being, to open the eyes and ears of the Cambodian authorities, who do not seem to hear the voices nor see the images that are now circulating internationally.