Civil Society Groups Call for Release of Boeung Kak Activists in Cambodia

March 6, 2015

By: Samean Yun nad Roseanne Gerin, RFA,  March 06, 2015

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Women land activists being arrested by police outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, Nov. 11, 2014.

Civil society organizations have called for the release of 12 land rights defenders and activists imprisoned for their involvement in land disputes related to the Boeung Kak development project in the Cambodian capital, saying they have been jailed for exercising their fundamental freedoms.

The 30 groups, which include the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, Adhoc, and the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel), on Friday called for the release of the dozen activists—11 of whom are women—in the run-up to International Women’s Day on March 8.

“As the recently adopted United Nations General Assembly resolution on women human rights defenders testifies, women who work to defend human rights face risks and challenges that require specific attention and protection,” the groups said in a joint statement.

“International Women’s Day, held this week, provides the perfect occasion for this government to garner international credibility by affirming the important and legitimate role of human rights defenders, especially women defenders, in the promotion and protection of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Cambodia.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government, however, brushed off the request, saying the state could not interfere with court decisions.

The imprisoned activists include Tep Vanny, Nget Khun, Song Sreyleap, Kong Chantha, Phan Chhunreth, Bo Chhorvy, Nong Sreng, Heng Pich, Im Srey Touch, Phoung Sopheap, Buddhist monk Seung Hai, and housing rights defender Ly Seav Minh.

Residents of the Boeung Kak Lake community—a settlement that included nine villages surrounding a lake in the Cambodia capital Phnom Penh—have fought authorities for years over the eviction of thousands of families to make way for a development project that has yet to materialize.

They argue that a development project backed by Lao Meng Khin, a lawmaker from Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodia People’s Party, has caused flooding in the community.

Several dozen families are still waiting for land titles owed to them after Hun Sen in 2011 reclaimed part of the concession awarded to Lao Meng Khin’s company Shukaku Inc. in 2007.

Obstructing traffic

Seven of the activists—Nget Khun, Tep Vanny, Song Sreyleap, Kong Chantha, Phan Chhunreth, Bo Chhorvy, and Nong Sreng—were arrested on Nov. 10, 2014, and charged with obstructing traffic as they protested flooding in their community. They received the maximum sentence of one year in prison and were fined about U.S. $500 each.

Three other activists and a monk were detained the following day while peacefully protesting outside the courthouse for the release of their fellow activists.

They were convicted of obstructing public officials, and later an appeal court upheld their convictions, which were handed down in proceedings that did not meet fair trial standards, according to the civil society groups.

On Nov. 18, 2014, Ly Seav Minh, another activist, and her father Ly Srea Kheng were arrested because of their involvement in a land dispute with the Khun Sear Import Export Company after they refused to vacate a plot of land in the Boeung Kak 1 area.

The father was released on bail, but his daughter was denied it and charged with using violence against a possessor in good faith of an immovable property, the statement said. She has been in provisional detention waiting for her case to be heard.

The groups’ statement went on to say that the Cambodian government must demonstrate a genuine commitment to human rights, as it recently pledged to the international community during its last Universal Periodic Review in the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2014 and before another review before the U.N. Human Rights Committee on March 17-18.

The Universal Periodic Review is a rights review mechanism through which all U.N. member states are examined every four years.

“The reluctance of the government to protect human rights defenders, and moreover its active role in restricting their rights to promote and strive for the protection and realization of human rights, represents a breach of the state’s obligations that cannot be tolerated anymore, the statement said.

“In addition to ending the use of courts to harass activists and human rights defenders, both local and national authorities should take serious steps to resolve the underlying land disputes and reach solutions that respect the rights of all parties, rather than silencing the voices of vulnerable and marginalised citizens and further stimulating conflicts.”

The statement issued by the civil society groups also pointed out that Cambodia’s constitution mandates that the government must respect human rights and ensure that the judiciary guarantees impartiality as well as protect the rights and freedoms of the citizens.”

It notes that the international conventions which Cambodia has recognized form part of the law to which trial judges must adhere.

“None of these protections were guaranteed to the 12 detainees, who have been jailed for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly,” the statement said.

Power separation

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said the government could not intervene with the court to release the activists.

“The NGOs’ statement confuses the public in terms of power separation between the state and the court,” he said.

He added that the statement has encouraged activists to abuse laws.

The seizure of land for development—often without due process or compensation to displaced residents—has been a major cause of protest in Cambodia and other authoritarian Asian countries, including China and Myanmar.

International human right groups, such as Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights, Geneva-based World Organization Against Torture, and New York-based Human Rights Watch have all called for the immediate and unconditional overturning of the convictions of activists imprisoned for their involvement in protests related to the Boeung Kak development project.


Boeung Kak land talks fail

March 6, 2015

By: Khouth Sophak Chakrya, The Phnom Penh Post   March 06, 2015

Following negotiations yesterday with Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong, representatives of 12 Boeung Kak community families complained that City Hall was not offering them nearly enough land to replace what had previously been taken from them.

The negotiations took place a day after Hong Sokkheng, rumoured to be the 51-year-old sister of a high-ranking Cambodian People’s Party member, said she would accept an offer of far less land than that which was taken from her in 2010.

However, after other Boeung Kak families yesterday complained about being offered insufficient land, Sokkheng said she would support those families in solidarity.

“We are the real victims, and we should have been offered a proper solution,” said Ly Nary, a member of one of the 12 families who negotiated with the municipality yesterday. “Phnom Penh municipal authorities should not use this solution policy, which seems to pressure and coerce us into taking a deal.”

Chinese-owned company Shukaku Inc destroyed about 3,600 square metres of her land by flooding it and inundating it with sand in 2010, Nary said.

During yesterday’s meeting, City Hall offered to give the 12 families land plots that amounted to about 30 per cent of the land each had lost.

Sen Touch, 45, who was also involved in negotiations, said that Shukaku’s land grabbing in order to build modern apartments in the area represented “social injustice”.

“I am very disappointed that Pa Socheatvong said that he has no land to offer us, when thousands of square metres of our land were grabbed by the company without any solution,” Touch said.

“Buildings are constructed on our land, but where is the justice for us?”

Sokkheng yesterday said that although she had previously agreed to accept a piece of land 8,580 square metres less than what she previously owned, she will now demand a better deal.


World Bank Rejects Meeting With Land Evictees

February 27, 2015

By:  , The Cambodia Daily, February  27, 2015

The World Bank has turned down a suggestion that it hold a meeting somewhere outside of Cambodia exclusively with families that have been forcibly evicted from their land before it decides whether to lift a current freeze on new lending to the country.

The Bank announced the freeze in August 2011 in response to the government’s refusal to issue land titles to families living in Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak community, from which some 3,000 families—most of the neighborhood—were eventually evicted to make way for CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin’s real estate project.

The Bank is currently considering a new project in Cambodia that would effectively bring the freeze to an end and has announced plans to hold 11 meetings around the country with seven “key stakeholder groups.” But none of the groups includes the evictees themselves, the very group over whom the lending freeze was imposed.

In a February 3 letter to the Bank, U.S. lawyer Morton Sklar, working with local rights groups, asks it to schedule an additional meeting with evictees outside Cambodia so that they would feel free to speak their minds without fear of government intimidation.

In a February 20 reply obtained this week, World Bank country manager Alassane Sow tells Mr. Sklar that the Bank would be sticking to its original plans.

“All consultations will be held in Cambodia and meetings will be held with listed stakeholders as set forth in the consultation plan,” Mr. Sow says.

The reply provides no explanation for the Bank’s decision. Asked for one, World Bank country spokesman Bou Saroeun said Mr. Sow’s letter “speaks for itself.”

Reacting to the reply, Mr. Sklar said the Bank’s decision not to arrange a meeting with evictees was “a very perplexing and disturbing result.”

“[T]he World Bank’s own Inspection Panel report that served as the basis for the loan ban being imposed in 2011 listed the systemic land eviction problem as the main reason why the World Bank should not give additional support to the Cambodian government until reforms were made in the land eviction policies,” Mr. Sklar said.

Last year, the Bank said the meetings would start in late 2014 or early 2015, but it has yet to schedule a single one.


Rallying and marching to Hun Sen’s House, requesting for new installment of electricity

February 23, 2015

By:Sovann My, Sahrika  February 23, 2015

This morning, around 100 people from three different communities including SOS community, Boeung Kak Lake and Borei Keila community rallied together and marched to Hun Sen’s house in order to seek for his intervention on the new installment of electricity over their households.
See photos in actions as below:

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The Cost of Living

February 21, 2015

By: Michelle Vachon   , The Cambodia Daily, February  21, 2015

A sightseeing visit to Boeng Kak lake in mid-2008 by Swiss-Australian photographer Nicolas Axelrod turned into a seven-year project documenting forced evictions in Phnom Penh, as well as the city’s evolving landscape.

Having come to Phnom Penh from Bangkok to cover the national election in July of that year, Mr. Axelrod ended up settling in Cambodia and following members of communities evicted in the late 2000s and early 2010s, including Boeng Kak, Dey Krahorm, Borei Keila and Group 78.

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Residents flee a bulldozer as it moves rubble from homes destroyed during the forced eviction of Dey Krahorm residents in Phnom Penh in January 2009. (Nicolas Axelrod)

 

“I spent a week going every morning at 6:00 to Borei Keila because there was a rumor that they were going to evict the people from the green sheds,” the 32-year-old photographer said.

The sheds housed 50 families, each of which had a member with HIV/AIDS. They were eventually trucked kilometers out of town, making it impossible for them to earn a living as they had done—even precariously—in Phnom Penh.

“This development…it’s a normal transition for any city,” Mr. Axelrod said.

“The issue was the way it was done…. Had they really done a good job [with] the resettlement of these communities, it would have been a massive boost for the city because this would have given opportunities to people who previously didn’t have them.”

Mr. Axelrod has also documented development on eviction sites, Cambodian youth culture and the emergence of the middle class.

About 150 of the thousands of photos he has taken in the country will be featured in his book and e-book “Transitioning Cambodia,” set to be released in late April.


7 years of change: Documenting the transformation of Cambodia

February 17, 2015

By: Asian Correspondent Staff Feb 17, 2015 3:55PM UTC

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July 07, 2011 – Phnom Penh, Cambodia. A resident of Boeung Kak rows a wooden boat against a storm moving in over Phnom Penh. The new buildings of the Council of Ministers and the office of the Prime Minister can be seen in the background. © Nicolas Axelrod / Ruom

Words by Denise Hruby, images by Nicolas Axelrod of the RUOM Collective

With the first beams of sunlight, men and women would set out on wooden longboats, passing the reflection of their stilted homes onto the middle of Boeung Kak, a lake nestled in the heart of Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh.

Soon, their hand-made fishing nets would be filled with flapping fish, and their woven baskets would brim with morning glory. Little more is needed for a filling supper.

Most of the maps you’ll find of Phnom Penh will still show this vast body of water. Surrounded by the Council of Ministers, the Royal University and the offices of the Prime Minister, the community seemed a little out of place: Lacking electricity, clean drinking water and hygiene, it was the poor who had formed a close-knit community here.

If you’d visit the once vibrant area today, you’d find little more than sand. In 2008, a real estate company started to pump sand into the lake. A few years later, and the water was no more. Neither was the vibrant community of several thousand people that had called the lake home for decades.

That somebody would fill in a whole lake to erect high-rise buildings might seem ludicrous — but after acquiring the rights to develop the lake, that’s exactly what a real estate company did. With the economy growing at a flabbergasting average of 7.7 percent over the past 20 years, the need for development is inevitable.

After decades under the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime and ensuing civil war, the country’s middle class is growing, and so is consumerism. Cambodians are embracing this modernisation. The young now dress in fashionable clothes and munch on Belgium pralines before watching the newest 3D Hollywood blockbuster. Affluent families are moving into apartment buildings that feature gyms, pools, countless air condition units and a daily maid service. Even luxury carmakers like Porsche and Rolls Royce have opened dealerships in the capital Phnom Penh.

Countless opportunities exist for investors, but critics say that rapid development has made the rich richer, and the poor poorer. The majority of the population is left out.

For the hundreds of families that were violently evicted from their homes in the city center, development meant that they were relocated to barren plots of land. Schools, health-care centers, markets or any income opportunity were out of reach. The ones who fought for their land were violently suppressed, driven out of their homes with tear gas and water canons.

Today, their once poor but lively communities have been replaced with sterile real estate projects.
In Cambodia, development has been happening fast – but with little regard for collateral damage.

Transitioning Cambodia is the first photo book that will showcase these rapid developments in modern-day Cambodia, it’s changing landscapes and society.
 The Ruom Collective is currently running a crowd funding project to distribute the photo book in pre-sale throughIndiegogo
.

The gallery below illustrates the dramatic change that has taken place in Cambodia over the past number of years (hover over images for captions):

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Protesters Blocked From Marching to Freedom Park

February 6, 2015

By: Mech Dara  , The Cambodia Daily, February  06, 2015

Government security guards and riot police Thursday blocked about 50 demonstrators from marching to Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park to protest for the release of 19 imprisoned anti-eviction activists, monks and opposition CNRP figures.

The protesters, which included members of the city’s embattled Boeng Kak and Borei Keila communities, planned to rally at Freedom Park before delivering a petition to the National Assembly, and gathered outside the US Embassy at about 9:45 am before marching to the park.

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A protester holds up a sign calling for the release of 19 jailed activists outside the National Assembly on Thursday. (Siv Channa / The Cambodia Daily)

But they were stopped at nearby Wat Phnom by a roughly equal number of Daun Penh district security guards and riot police.

“We will not allow you to march, as City Hall has not given you permission,” district security chief Kim Vutha told the group, adding that they would have to ride tuk-tuks to the National Assembly.

The demonstrators agreed, and successfully delivered their petition to both the National Assembly and Royal Palace before returning home.

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said any future attempts by the group to protest would be prevented.

 


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