Cambodia, against evictions and in solidarity with BKL Housing Rights Defenders
For the past five years, the Boeung Kak Lake community has been fighting against the private developer that filled the lake with sand causing serious flooding in the surrounding villages and forcing more than 3500 families to leave because their homes became uninhabitable. On May a peaceful demonstration was violently dispersed and 15 women were arrested. An international call for solidarity.
For the past five years, the Boeung Kak Lake community has been fighting for their land and housing rights. Until recently, the Boeung Kak settlement consisted of nine villages surrounding the iconic lake in central Phnom Penh, where some 4000 families resided.
In February 2007, the Municipality of Phnom Penh granted a 99-year lease to the private developer Shukaku Inc. over a 133-hectare area covering the lake and the nine surrounding villages, illegally stripping residents of their land rights. Shukaku has since formed a joint venture with Chinese firm Erdos Hong Jun Investment Co., Ltd. in order to develop the leasehold into a high-end residential, commercial and tourism complex.
The developer began filling the lake with sand in August 2008, causing serious flooding in the surrounding villages and forcing many families to leave because their homes became uninhabitable. More than 3500 families have been coerced into accepting inadequate compensation for their homes and land, which has driven many families into destitution.
Boeung Kak residents attempted to challenge this unjust development through complaints to the courts and competent authorities, but these complaints were all rejected. They proposed an alternative development plan providing for onsite upgraded housing, but this was also rejected. Dozens of protests by the residents have been met with threats, arrests and excessive force by authorities.
In August 2011, after the residents brought a successful complaint to the World Bank Inspection Panel implicating a Bank-funded land-titling program in their dispossession, the World Bank announced that it had frozen new lending to Cambodia until a solution was found for the lakeside families. One week after the announcement, Prime Minister Hun Sen granted 12.44 hectares of the area to the remaining 799 families. Since then, the community has been calling on the government to mark the boundaries of the land concession.
Meanwhile, violence and intimidation against the Boeung Kak Lake community continued, including particularly violent crackdowns on peaceful protests throughout 2011 and 2012.
On May 22nd 2012, a group of around 80 Boeung Kak residents gathered on the sand dunes covering their homes on the lakeside village to stage a peaceful demonstration, complete with singing and speeches. A mixed force of riot police and district guards surrounded the protesters and violently put a stop to the singing. As the demonstrators dispersed, they were chased down by authorities who arrested 13 women: Nget Khun; Tep Vanny; Kong Chantha; Srong Srey Leap; Tho Davy; Chan Navy; Ngoun Kimlang; Pao Saopea; Cheng Leap; Soung Samai; Phan Chan Reth; Heng Mom; and Toul Srey Pov.
Their trial began on May 24th , two days after their arrest, and just one hour after spurious charges against them had been filed. Requests by lawyers for a trial delay to allow them to prepare their defense, review the case file and evidence, and bring in witnesses were all denied. By 5:30 pm, all 13 women - including one 72-year-old – had been sentenced to 2.5 years in prison, with some of the sentences partially suspended. During the trial, the police arrested two more community representatives, Mr. Sao Sareoun and Ms. Ly Chanary who were waiting outside the court prepared to testify as witnesses for the 13 women who were on trial. The two remain in pre-trial detention.
We need your help to send a loud message to the Cambodian Government:
Free the 15!
Respect the Right to Adequate Housing and the Right to the City!