Six am in Dey Krahorm on December 10, International Human Rights Day. Inside the
flimsy barricade of upturned street vendor trolleys, the version of life peculiar
to people on the brink of eviction went on as usual.
Nomenchok "morning noodles" doused with prahok were being sold and devoured
and many residents managed to sleep through the night despite fears it would be their
last before the bulldozers moved in.
Residents were more alarmed than usual because the day before, the 7NG company had
begun erecting green metal fencing around their houses, dilapidated market, small
orphanage and school.
The work met with no resistance, unlike the previous week when villagers used rocks
and ineffective Molotov cocktails on a 7NG truck carrying an earth-digger to the
7NG company claims legal rights to the 4.7 ha property located near the new National
Assembly building and crumbling Tonle Bassac theater. They plan to build extensive
business and hotel centers on the site.
"They're doing this to provoke us- so we break the law, and then they can arrest
us," said a father of three who has lived in the community-now down to about
280 families-for 10 years.
Despite the fears, there were no evictions on December 10. Instead Dey Krahorm found
itself a symbol of international human rights when Yash Ghai, the UN secretary-general's
special representative for human rights to Cambodia, joined them linking hands in
a human chain around the property.
Later at a press conference Ghai-making his fourth trip to Cambodia since early 2006-said
he was refused meetings with anyone in the government and lambasted the international
donor community for failing to put pressure on the government to stop human rights
"The international community provided over 60 percent of [Cambodia's] budget
and with that comes responsibility," he said. "They are deeply implicated
in the system and therefore they have a responsibility to ensure people do not lose
their lands [and] their livelihoods. They are better placed than me as they have
more leverage over the government."
The government reacted to Yash Ghai's visit by calling for a new envoy to be appointed.
As they linked hands, some people said they feared for their lives.
"I'm too frightened to go outside," said a Dey Krahorm resident. "It's
ok to be here if the NGOs are here, but as soon as they're gone, I have to leave
Officials of human rights NGOs on hand speculated that the developer had put up the
fencing in hopes of discouraging a Human Rights Day demonstration.
"This is the first time the communities involved have come together in a collective
action to organize such an event," said David Pred, country director of Bridges
Others said the company was being deliberately provocative to the residents. One
human rights worker said that on December 9 people in the market of Dey Krahorm were
passing out $10 bills to policemen and 10,000 Riel notes to house breakers-the people
who would be hired to evict the residents.
The gradual eviction of Dey Krahorm has been going on for some time, and the majority
of families already have been sent to Dangkor outside Phnom Penh.