After a decade of rumours, the so-called 'development' of the Boeung Kok lake area is now under way. The contract for the development was negotiated in a shroud of secrecy without even the pretense of open bidding or participation from the tens of thousands of the residents and business owners who will be directly affected. Senator Lao Meng Khin appears to have won the no-bid contract on the basis of his connections to the highest levels of the Cambodian political hierarchy.
The lease agreement that his company Shukaku Inc signed last February with the Municipality of Phnom Penh violates numerous provisions of Cambodian Land Law. The agreement calls for the filling in of Boeung Kok lake - a crucial natural reservoir for excess rainwater - which threatens to significantly worsen the flooding that Phnom Penh has already seen. An environmental impact assessment - required by law before the commencement of any major development project - has not been made public or approved by the Ministry of Environment, yet the filling of the lake has already begun.
The senator's contract strips away the land and property rights of more than 4,000 families. The contract transfers interest in land that is already legally possessed by local families under the 2001 Land Law to a private company. While the lake itself is state public property, many surrounding families have demonstrated legal claims to their property through lawful possession. Recent precedents by the municipality and the abysmal track record of Senator Lao Meng Khin's other company Pheapimex suggest that those families who do not accept the proposed compensation or resettlement offer will be forcibly evicted.
The Kingdom of Cambodia has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In doing so, it has committed itself to respect the right to adequate housing of its citizens and refrain from forced evictions, which are prohibited under international law.
The Cambodian government will be presenting its first report to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) this October. It will be required to explain to the committee how it has implemented the covenant in Cambodia. Surely, the Cambodian delegation will not want to face questions from the committee about why it has permitted the Municipality of Phnom Penh to uproot the lives of more than 20,000 citizens in the name of "city beautification" and embark on the largest single displacement of people in Cambodia since the Khmer Rouge evacuated the capital city in 1975.
It is not too late to stop this terrible mistake. When the Boeung Kok residents file their legal complaint to halt these illegal actions, let us hope that the Cambodian judiciary surprises us for a change and defends the rule of law.
Cambodia Country Director
Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia