The World Heritage Committee must discuss the concerning situation of forced evictions around the World Heritage site of Angkor when it meets this month, Amnesty International said after submitting preliminary research findings to UNESCO ahead of the Committee’s upcoming session in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia from 10 – 25 September.
“The World Heritage Committee must not ignore the Cambodian government’s ongoing removal of a reported 10 thousand families from around the Angkor Wat temple that amounts to mass forced evictions in the name of conservation, as per our preliminary findings of our latest research,” said Montse Ferrer, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director of Research.
“The Cambodian government has claimed the evictions are of ‘illegal inhabitants’ only, as opposed to those who comprise ‘traditional villages’. However, our research shows that the state has provided no clarity as to who has a legally recognized right to stay. Many people who are being forced to leave have told us their families have lived at Angkor for generations in what they believe are traditional villages.”
“We have also documented the poor conditions of the resettlement sites where families are moved to. These sites do not have any housing or toilets and evicted families are required to build their own homes, contrary to international human rights standards, which state that sites must include the provision of drinking water, housing and sanitation before people are relocated.”
In March, Amnesty International reported that the state was conducting mass forced evictions as authorities intimidated families to leave the Angkor area to move to government resettlement sites.
Amnesty International has since conducted in-person interviews with more than 100 people who have been evicted or face eviction.
Preliminary findings of this research have been submitted to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Heritage Centre ahead of the Committee’s 45th Session in Riyadh, where it is expected that Angkor Wat will be discussed.
“The mass forced evictions are tearing families who have lived at Angkor Wat for generations away from their homes and livelihoods. They are also leading to increased indebtedness and impoverishment for many.
“The Cambodian authorities must stop all forced evictions and only relocate people to the resettlement sites once due process requirements are followed and the resettlement sites meet the criteria for adequacy as per international human rights standards.
“As the Committee meets to discuss Angkor, it must seize this opportunity to ensure that conservation efforts do not come at the cost of human rights. It must demand that the Cambodian state upholds its obligations under international human rights laws and standards,” Montse Ferrer said.
The World Heritage Committee has the final say on whether a property is inscribed on the World Heritage List. It examines reports on the state of conservation of inscribed properties and asks governments to act when properties are not being properly managed.
Angkor was first inscribed to the World Heritage List in 1992 by UNESCO and the World Heritage Committee.