Cambodians who have criticised World Bank-sponsored projects have been subject to persecution and violent crackdowns by security forces, all while the international financial institution remains largely silent on the matter, a new report by Human Rights Watch alleges.
The report, At Your Own Risk, details how despite its own research turning up evidence of threats, intimidation and harm, the World Bank has largely failed to address abuses to communities in Cambodia – and elsewhere – in cases where locals have protested bank-affiliated developments.
“The World Bank has long said that public participation and accountability are key to the success of the development efforts it funds,” Jessica Evans, senior international financial institutions advocate at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
“But the World Bank’s repeated failure to confront intimidation or harassment of people who criticize its projects risks making a mockery out of these principles.”
The report mentions several examples in the Kingdom of community members suffering retaliation for criticism.
In Ratanakkiri, for instance, 17 villages lodged a complaint with the International Finance Corporation’s Office of the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) about Vietnamese company Hoang Anh Gia Lai threatening their access to water and land, only to be threatened by local authorities about their advocacy.
When addressed, one community member quoted a CAO representative as saying, “they would try” to do something about the threat “but might not have much power”.
The report goes on to detail a case study on the Boeung Kak lake evictions.
It describes how Cambodian security personnel systematically pressured and imprisoned community members that protested their eviction over the past seven years.
Furthermore, the report says that an internal investigation proved there was “a direct link between the Bank-financed $23.4 million Land Management and Administration Project in Cambodia . . . and the forced evictions suffered by [Boeung Kak residents]”.
Though the bank in 2011 froze all new funds for the government until a proper resolution was reached for the evictees and “responded strongly against the government’s forcible eviction”, the bank still refused to actively get involved in the dispute.
Boeung Kak activist Tep Vanny said yesterday she believed that the government ordered security guards to deal with protesters harshly precisely because the World Bank had dried up its funding.
“The government got angry about the lack of money and took their anger out on the community,” she said, adding that now the World Bank was not in a strong enough position to champion those who were evicted.
Still, Stella Anastasia, technical assistant for rights group Adhoc, said the World Bank should use its clout to right past wrongs.
“The World Bank should take responsibility for the harm caused to the Boeung Kak Lake community, and this should include finding the courage to publicly speak out against the unlawful imprisonment of its activists,” she said.
A World Bank spokesperson reached last night via email rejected the notion that the bank stood idly by amid abuses.
“When allegations of reprisal are brought to our attention, we work – within the scope of our mandate – with appropriate parties to try to address them.
Where links between reprisals and WBG-financed projects can be established, we have taken action as documented by past cases and we will continue to do so.”