Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra has responded to a report issued by Human Rights Watch (HRW) which claimed that the construction of the Lower Sesan II Hydropower Dam had undermined human rights in Cambodia.
Pheaktra said the report was biased and motivated by geopolitical considerations and devoid of any apparent concern about the negative impact that hindering the development of Cambodia might have on its entire population’s human and economic rights if the country is forced to remain mired in poverty.
“Relocation of families is never easy, but the government carefully considers the costs and benefits to its citizens for all of its construction projects and attempts to reduce their impacts through environmental and social impact assessment tools that have clear solutions and measures,” he said.
HRW released its 137-page report “Underwater Human Rights Impacts of a China Belt and Road Project in Cambodia” on August 10.
The report claims that the construction of the Lower Sesan 2 dam – which was completed in 2018 – had ultimately resulted in the displacement of nearly 5,000 people, most of whom were indigenous peoples and other ethnic minorities.
The displaced minority groups, according to HRW, were the Bunong, Brao, Kuoy, Lao, Jarai, Kreung, Kavet, Tampuan, and Kacho who had been living in villages along the Sesan and Srepok Rivers for generations.
“In addition, the project impacted tens of thousands of other people upstream and downstream of the dam who depended on the rivers’ fisheries for food and income,” the report said.
The project, it said, has also likely contributed to decreases in fishery yields across the entire Mekong River system, which is significant because tens of millions of people in Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos depend on fish caught in the Mekong river system for food. For the average Cambodian, fish makes up 60 to 75 per cent of the protein in their diet.
However, Pheaktra said that the environmental impact assessments were conducted and it was determined that the government could release sufficient water downstream during the dam’s construction to ensure the conservation of river ecosystems.
Pheaktra then pointed out that the government had already provided 7086.80ha of land to the people affected by the dam, while also building them 118 stone houses and 471 wooden houses along with 63 reservoirs and 18 wells.
Furthermore, Pheaktra said, the project had constructed 12 schools and 12 kindergartens, two commune halls, three pagodas, two police stations and one military police station to serve those impacted communities.
Twelve families living in Phluk commune’s Phluk village had received 100 per cent compensation paid by the construction company, while 56 families refused the money. They were relocated to safer ground and received some other impact assistance.
“The description in HRW’s report about the Lower Sesan II Hydropower Dam construction project is just part of a campaign to disseminate false information and disguise the facts about occurred in order to subvert Cambodia’s development and stir up resentments and internal conflict – all in service to a broader political agenda that doesn’t concern itself with small matters like Cambodians having access to affordable electricity,” Pheaktra said.
Pheaktra said that the construction of the dam was of positive benefit to Cambodia’s national economy and its people because it is providing 400MW of renewable energy and that human rights organisations should praise the government for focusing on aspects of national development that prioritise infrastructure like electricity, water and roads that are of tangible benefit to all Cambodians.
“This is what Cambodian people want, but extremist human rights groups such as HRW apparently want Cambodians to read their reports by the light of kerosene-burning lamps in the 21st century,” he said.
According to Pheaktra, the water quality of the Sesan River upstream and downstream of the dam has not changed due to the dam’s presence and there are many factors involved in determining the health of the Mekong River system because it is a resource shared by China, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam.