Robert B. Zoellick
President of the World Bank Group
1818 H Street, Suite 600
Washington DC 20433 USA
Dear President Zoellick :
It has recently come to our attention that the World Bank is considering ending its suspension of new loans to the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) and preparing an Interim Strategy Note to facilitate new lending. We, the undersigned, write to insist that, despite some positive developments regarding the Boeung Kak Lake case, now is the wrong time to end the consider resumption of loans for the very reasons they were suspended in August last year.
Doing so not only would risk undoing gains made, but would also send a dangerous message to the RGC in light of the spate of recent killings and unwarranted jailing of activists, including Boeung Kak community leaders. We believe that these appalling events call not for reward and the injection of more funds, but rather a coordinated and public condemnation by the international community, including the World Bank.
The past month has seen a series of shocking and inexcusable events in Cambodia. On 26 April, Chut Wutty, shot dead by armed forces a tireless environmental activist was after taking two journalists to a logging area in Koh Kong Province. On 16 May 2012, a Cambodian soldier killed a 14-year old girl, Heng Chantha, during a violent forced eviction of a village in Kratie Province. On the same date, two excavators accompanied by around 100 armed riot police and security guards demolished eight homes and businesses without warning in village 22 at Boeung Kak Lake. In that incident, brick- and baton-wielding police beat unconscious a resident and activist, Suong Sophorn, after he called for other residents to join hands to stop the destruction of more houses.
On 22 May female residents of Boeung Kak staged a peaceful demonstration on the sand dunes that cover what was once a village on the shores of the lake. The demonstration followed thwarted efforts by one family to demarcate the boundary of their home, which had been submerged in sand during the filling of the lake. While singing songs about their plight, a mixed force of military police, anti-riot police and district guards surrounded the protesters and used violence to break up the demonstration. They then arrested 13 women, including 72-year old Nget Khun. A video clip of these events is available at:
On 24 May, a Phnom Penh court convicted the women on baseless charges of obtaining land illegally and inciting others to take land illegally. Seven of the women were sentenced to two years and six months in prison, five were sentenced to two years, and Nget Khun was sentenced to a one-year term. During the trial, the police arrested two more Boeung Kak community representatives who were prepared to testify as witnesses for the 13 women on trial.
We respectfully appeal to you not to authorize any re-engagement by the Bank with the RGC under these circumstances and to continue the suspension until a more strategic and judicious moment for engagement is possible under full implementation of human rights of the Boeung Kak Lake community.
We regard the issuance of land titles to 631 Boeung Kak families earlier this year following the Prime Minister’s subdecree granting the remaining residents 12.44 hectares of land around the former lake as a significant step toward the implementation of Cambodia’s human rights obligations. We understand that the principled stand taken by the World Bank following the Inspection Panel’s findings of noncompliance with operational policies during the design and implementation of the Land Management and Administration Project played an integral part in achieving this outcome. We encourage this instance of principled leadership on the part of the Bank president. That wise decision has contributed in no small part to the legal tenure security and relative peace that these 631 Cambodian families now enjoy.
Nonetheless, we remain deeply concerned about the 3,500 Boeung Kak families, who already reluctantly accepted the inadequate compensation package reluctantly and left their lakeside homes under extreme duress. They now suffer severe hardship, trying to make ends meet each day. We are also concerned about the 94 families that were excluded from the benefits of the Prime Minister’s subdecree and remain under the threat of forced eviction. Together these families represent an estimated 85 percent of all Boeung Kak residents who submitted the Request to the World Bank Inspection Panel.
We urge the World Bank to take all possible action to facilitate support for these displaced and excluded families, including through high-level dialogue with relevant agencies and the provision of financing for remedial action. We also note that other organizations may be in a position to operationalize aspects of the Bank Management’s January 2011 Action Plan, including financing measures that respond to the needs of tenure insecure and resettled communities from the Boeung Kak area (at para. 76, Table 1).
The Bank should not passively accept the lack of progress in supporting displaced and excluded groups to date as a fait accompli. Rather, it should work proactively to identify possible interlocutors to remedy harm done and, as Bank Management itself commits to do, “make every effort to implement the Action Plan” (at para. 78). If necessary, this should entail the provision of unilateral Bank support to displaced families through a trust fund and administered through an NGO or other agency.
The community itself has appealed to you to ensure a fair resolution for the displaced and excluded families before the Bank provides any further financing to the RGC. The public statements made by Bank representatives in August 2011 have led the community to believe that this would be the case. We note that Country Director Annette Dixon stated at the time: “Until an agreement is reached with the residents of Boeung Kak Lake, we do not expect to provide any new lending to Cambodia.”[i]
The World Bank lending freeze has provided a powerful boost to the community’s five-year struggle, which has become an inspiration to marginalized communities throughout Cambodia facing dislocation from their homes, land and the natural resources that they depend upon for survival. We believe that re-engaging now, particularly following the unlawful arrest and imprisonment of Boeung Kak community leaders, would send a dangerous message of approval to the RGC and undermine the community’s hope that they will not be left alone in their stand against the powerful forces of injustice. It also would erode the global credibility of the Bank and its compliance procedures.
[i] “World Bank suspends new lending to Cambodia over eviction of landowners,” The Guardian (11 August 2011), at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2011/aug/10/world-bank-suspends-cambodia-lending.