Cambodia - When the justice system works against you

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"The development came in 2008,” she explains. “The government… didn’t announce publicly that they had given the Boeung Kak area to Shukaku for development. We found out when the company set up its office here."
Tep Vanny, Boeung Kak Lake, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

 

In 2007, a company was granted a 99-year lease over the Boeung Kak Lake area in central Phnom Penh. A year later, some 20,000 residents living in the area were threatened with eviction. For most families, including Tep Vanny’s, the offers of either US$8,500 or a flat at a resettlement site on the outskirts of Phnom Penh are not sufficient for them to find adequate alternative housing or work.

Residents were not properly informed about the development plans nor were they consulted to identify alternatives to eviction or the resettlement and compensation offers. Attempts to seek redress through the courts have so far proved unsuccessful.

Vanny and her community have always resisted forced eviction and have proposed to be allowed to stay, either in their own houses or in alternative housing built within the development area.

"I continue to mobilize the community to strengthen [the people’s] spirit so that the community can stay firm and independent and can convince the government to change its mind."

In August 2011, the Prime minister authorized the allocation of a portion of Boeung Kak Lake land to the remaining residents for onsite housing development. However, while more than 600 families have received new land titles as part of this allotment, around 90 families have been unfairly excluded.

Since then, the community has protested peacefully for all of the remaining families to be included in the allotment area. In response, community representatives have faced harassment, violence and legal action against them, culminating on 24 May 2012 in the conviction and imprisonment of 13 lake community representatives, including Vanny.

Rather than acting independently and protecting the rights and freedoms of the people, as required by Cambodia’s Constitution, the Cambodian justice system has been used to pursue legal action against those defending their rights, while perpetrators of forced evictions and members of security forces using excessive force against protesters are not held accountable.

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