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Relocated Cambodian families appeal to Australia

121009_02

A boy stands next to railway tracks that pass through a community in Phnom Penh where homes will be removed to make way for Cambodia’s railway rehabilitation project. Photograph: Will Baxter/Phnom Penh Post

Thirty families uprooted by Cambodia’s railway rehabilitation project have filed a complaint with Australia’s highest human rights body, alleging rights abuses as a result of the partially AusAid-funded rail project.

The complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission was made on behalf of the families by NGOs Equitable Cambodia and Inclusive Development International, who say the Australian government has “failed to uphold its international human rights obligations” amid increasingly dire resettlement situations.

At least 1,200 families will be required to relocate for the project, a joint development between Australia’s Toll Holdings and Cambodian firm Royal Group.

Through its aid program Aus-Aid, the Australian government has funded A$26 million – or between 15 and 20 per cent – of the project. The majority of the project is funded by loans from the Asia Development Bank.

Life for those 30 families already resettled has meant impoverishment and debt, say rights groups, with children being particularly vulnerable.

“The combined factors of reduced income, increased expenses and insufficient compensation have led to widespread household indebtedness,” the claim reads.

Interviews with families in Phnom Penh’s resettled area by Equitable Cambodia showed parents unable to afford food for their children and high drop-out rates from school.

Both AusAid and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) were told of the human rights risks that would come with resettling people all the way from Poipet to Preah Sihanouk province, the NGOs say.

In June this year, AusAid responded to a leaked report that cited cost blow-outs and possible additional resettlements.

ADB’s Office of the Special Project Facilitator is now conducting a review and assessment of concerns related to the project raised to the ADB Accountability Mechanism in late 2011 by affected people, ADB deputy mission director Peter Brimble said in a statement.

“ADB takes every request for compliance review very seriously and will maintain the confidentiality of the requesters and the independence of the [review panel’s] deliberations,” the statement said.

Equitable Cambodia’s David Pred said it is the first time the group has pursued a rights issue with the relevant authority in a donor’s country of origin.

“It is up to the Australian government to act upon the Commission’s findings and repair the harm that has been done to people’s lives by the railway project,” he said.

The Australian Embassy could not comment in time for publication.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rosa Ellen at newsroom@phnompenhpost.com

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