Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Int’l bank critics at risk: Report

Int’l bank critics at risk: Report

Boeung Kak lake activists hold signs during a protest last year, calling for the World Bank
Boeung Kak lake activists hold signs during a protest last year, calling for the World Bank to reconsider a potential loan of $25 million for the development of land concessions. Charlotte Pert

Int’l bank critics at risk: Report

Cambodians who have criticised World Bank-sponsored projects have been subject to persecution and violent crackdowns by security forces, all while the international financial institution remains largely silent on the matter, a new report by Human Rights Watch alleges.

The report, At Your Own Risk, details how despite its own research turning up evidence of threats, intimidation and harm, the World Bank has largely failed to address abuses to communities in Cambodia – and elsewhere – in cases where locals have protested bank-affiliated developments.

“The World Bank has long said that public participation and accountability are key to the success of the development efforts it funds,” Jessica Evans, senior international financial institutions advocate at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

“But the World Bank’s repeated failure to confront intimidation or harassment of people who criticize its projects risks making a mockery out of these principles.”

The report mentions several examples in the Kingdom of community members suffering retaliation for criticism.

In Ratanakkiri, for instance, 17 villages lodged a complaint with the International Finance Corporation’s Office of the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) about Vietnamese company Hoang Anh Gia Lai threatening their access to water and land, only to be threatened by local authorities about their advocacy.

When addressed, one community member quoted a CAO representative as saying, “they would try” to do something about the threat “but might not have much power”.

The report goes on to detail a case study on the Boeung Kak lake evictions.

It describes how Cambodian security personnel systematically pressured and imprisoned community members that protested their eviction over the past seven years.

Furthermore, the report says that an internal investigation proved there was “a direct link between the Bank-financed $23.4 million Land Management and Administration Project in Cambodia . . . and the forced evictions suffered by [Boeung Kak residents]”.

Though the bank in 2011 froze all new funds for the government until a proper resolution was reached for the evictees and “responded strongly against the government’s forcible eviction”, the bank still refused to actively get involved in the dispute.

Boeung Kak activist Tep Vanny said yesterday she believed that the government ordered security guards to deal with protesters harshly precisely because the World Bank had dried up its funding.

“The government got angry about the lack of money and took their anger out on the community,” she said, adding that now the World Bank was not in a strong enough position to champion those who were evicted.

Still, Stella Anastasia, technical assistant for rights group Adhoc, said the World Bank should use its clout to right past wrongs.

“The World Bank should take responsibility for the harm caused to the Boeung Kak Lake community, and this should include finding the courage to publicly speak out against the unlawful imprisonment of its activists,” she said.

A World Bank spokesperson reached last night via email rejected the notion that the bank stood idly by amid abuses.

“When allegations of reprisal are brought to our attention, we work – within the scope of our mandate – with appropriate parties to try to address them.

Where links between reprisals and WBG-financed projects can be established, we have taken action as documented by past cases and we will continue to do so.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Bodhisattva statue unearthed

    The Apsara National Authority technical team uncovered a sandstone statue of a Bodhisattva while carrying out excavation work at the east entrance of the Ta Nei temple on October 8. The team was trying to find the temple’s roof stone, which had fallen into a

  • Artefact is seized from American auctioneers

    Cambodian and US archaeologists on Thursday discussed the formalities and procedures of returning to Cambodia an artefact which was recently seized by US Homeland Security Investigators (HSI) from an auction house in San Francisco. On Monday, the HSI said US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE),

  • World Bank: Challenges facing the Kingdom

    Cambodia’s economy currently faces challenges including credit growth in the construction and real estate sectors, rising indebtedness and the possible withdrawal of the EU’s Everything But Arms (EBA) agreement, said the World Bank Group’s latest forecast report on the Asia-Pacific economies. The

  • PM visits three EU members in crunch diplomacy mission

    Prime Minister Hun Sen left for Europe on Sunday as he embarked on a five-day diplomatic visit to three EU countries, in a trip analysts have speculated could be crucial in deciding the Kingdom’s ‘Everything But Arms’ (EBA) fate. According to a Ministry of