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

  • Khmer New Year holidays postponed

    In an effort to halt Covid-19 infections in the Kingdom, Prime Minister Hun Sen has postponed the Khmer New Year holidays scheduled from April 13 to 16. While the people will not have their usual break, nor will there be any public celebrations or gatherings at pagodas,

  • No word on state of emergency

    The National Assembly (NA) said it will postpone all unnecessary meetings in line with guidance from the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO) amid the Covid-19 pandemic. However, it did not say when or how it will debate the “state of emergency”

  • State of emergency draft law set for NA

    A draft law aiming to place the Kingdom in a state of emergency amid the Covid-19 pandemic is set for a debate at the National Assembly (NA) after going through the Council of Ministers’ Standing Committee meeting led by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday.

  • NA, Senate set for bill on ‘emergency’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has requested the Senate to convene an extraordinary meeting to review the draft law that aims to put the Kingdom in a state of emergency after the bill reached the National Assembly (NA) on Friday. The draft law, which was approved

  • Tourists can now prolong their stay

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said tourists holding Visa T and arriving in the Kingdom after January 1 will be allowed to prolong their stay until they are able to return home. The decision comes as Cambodia and most countries take measures to

  • Hun Sen, ministers, officials donate salaries in virus fight

    Prime Minister Hun Sen and other senior government officials have decided to donate their salaries to the National Committee for Combating Covid-19 in support of the ongoing battle against the coronavirus. Hun Sen announced in an April 1 letter that because the Covid-19 situation in Cambodia