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27 August 2008

Cambodia: Lake filling must not lead to forced evictions

The filling of Boeung Kak Lake in central Phnom Penh should immediately stop until a proper process that ensures human rights protection is in place, said Amnesty International and the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) today.

With work starting on the redevelopment of the lake, tens of thousands of Phnom Penh residents living in its immediate vicinity fear forced eviction. They were not notified the work was going to begin. Few details about the plans have been disclosed as to what will happen to the affected people – an estimated 3,000 to 4,200 families living on the shores of the lake and around the area.

Amnesty International and COHRE said the project process is in breach of both Cambodian and international law.

“In the absence of proper plans, compensation and adequate alternative housing for at least 3,000 affected families, the filling of the lake should be immediately halted. Otherwise, this may be the beginning of the biggest forced eviction in post-war Cambodia,” said Brittis Edman, Amnesty International’s Cambodia Researcher.

“If the government wishes to develop Boeung Kak, they should do so through a legal process, with the participation of communities that live around the lake,” said Dan Nicholson, Coordinator of COHRE’s Asia and Pacific Programme. “Affected communities need to be able to make informed decisions. The serious lack of clear information and accountability shows that preparations are just not in place.”

Background
The development plans for Boeung Kak Lake emerged in 2007, after the Municipality of Phnom Penh had entered into a 99-year lease agreement, handing over management of 133 hectares of land, including 90 per cent of the lake, to a private developer, Shukaku Ltd. According to the Municipality, this company will turn the area into “pleasant, trade, and service places for domestic and international tourists.”

As recently as two weeks ago, representatives of the Municipality conceded to journalists in Phnom Penh that they did not know how many people were affected, but estimated the number to be just 600 families. Local group surveys show the number to be far higher.

In breach of international law and standards the process leading up to the agreement between the company and the Municipality of Phnom Penh excluded affected communities from participation and genuine consultation. Information has been lacking throughout the process, and community members and housing rights advocates in Phnom Penh consider that offers of compensation and/or adequate alternative housing have not been systematic, while resettlement plans have been withheld from the public.

The agreement also appears to breach domestic law and implementing regulations in that no environmental impact assessment has been made public and no bidding procedure preceded the agreement. Moreover, according to the 2001 Land Law, the lake itself should be inalienable state land (so-called state public property), so its ownership cannot be transferred for longer than 15 years, during which time the function [of the property] must not change. Many of the affected families have strong legal claims to the land under the Land Law.
AI Index: PRE01/224/2008
Region Asia And The Pacific
Country Cambodia
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