Cambodia: Stop the use of excessive force against peaceful land activists

Cambodian authorities must stop the use of excessive force against peaceful land and housing activists, Amnesty International said today, after police violently dispersed a group of around 150 women protesting forced evictions in the capital Phnom Penh. Police yesterday beat and arrested several of the women, who were peacefully protesting against last month’s forced eviction of the Borei Keila community and the effects of past evictions at the capital’s Boeung Kak Lake. “Communities all over Cambodia are peacefully resisting forced evictions and taking action to claim their rights,” said Donna Guest, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Programme. “The Cambodian authorities must stop the use of excessive force against these communities, and bring to justice those responsible for such violence.” Yesterday’s episode follows more serious incidents elsewhere in the country, where land activists were reportedly shot and injured in Kratie province in eastern Cambodian by military personnel working for a private company, and in Battambang province in the west by military police. Several of the women protesting in Phnom Penh yesterday were half naked, as they removed their clothing in an apparent show of desperation. Police reportedly grabbed and beat the protesters, including elderly women, to the ground, before six women were thrown into a police van and detained overnight at Phnom Penh police station. The six women included Borei Keila residents Seng Kunthea, Seng Rany, Tom Sakmony, Nen Sarith and Ath Samnang, as well as Srang Srey Tuch, a former resident of Boeung Kak Lake. At least two of them were injured during the arrest but reportedly received no medical care, while none of them were given full access to lawyers. Four of the detained Borei Keila women had previously been held at Prey Speu Social Affairs Center, after a peaceful protest last month against the Borei Keila forced eviction. All six were released today without charge after being detained overnight.  Phnom Penh authorities agreed to discuss the disputes with representatives from the two communities. Women from Borei Keila are seeking compensation for damaged property and calling on the authorities to address their housing needs after more than 300 families were evicted from a development site on 3 January. The developer, Phan Imex, has failed to build the on-site housing it previously promised them.   Seven people arrested during the Borei Keila eviction remain in detention. Residents from Boeung Kak Lake are calling for the authorities to follow through on the Prime Minister’s promise, made in August 2011, to grant land titles to remaining residents and allow construction of on-site housing around the lake. They are also demanding that the authorities take measures to alleviate flooding caused by the company filling in the lake. Former residents are calling for additional compensation for being forced to leave their homes and relocating elsewhere. Earlier this week, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen warned against the use of violence in land disputes.   “The Cambodian government is saying one thing and authorities at the local level are doing another. Yesterday’s use of excessive force by police in Phnom Penh contradicts the Prime Minister’s call for peaceful resolutions to land disputes,” said Donna Guest. “Instead of trying to silence these communities through intimidation and violence, the Phnom Penh authorities should listen to them. These communities have a right to a prompt solution that meets Cambodia’s international legal obligations to provide adequate housing,” said Donna Guest.