25 July 2017
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Two indigenous communities in Stung Treng province that for years have been defying the construction of the Lower Sesan II hydropower dam now face the immediate prospect of having their homes flooded as the gates are closed. To make matters worse, they are now threatened with forced eviction from the remainder of their lands that is not expected to be flooded. Their indigenous brothers and sisters have demanded that all threats to evict them be called off.
On 15 July, the first of the dam’s ten gates was closed. By now, six have been closed. At the end of August, the first turbine will be tested and operations are set to begin on 25 September. The Prime Minister will preside over the inauguration of the dam. By then, the homes of 100 families in Sre Kor and Kbal Romeas villages will be under water. They are currently just fifteen meters above the level of the growing reservoir.
These are the families who have refused to leave or to accept compensation, and have not even taken steps to move their belongings. They are collateral damage in Cambodia’s development. They say that it is impossible to accept compensation for the loss of their ancestors’ graves and sacred sites. And their fellow villagers who have been willing to relocate have found themselves moved to a site where the only marginally viable livelihood is as labor on a rubber plantation – an occupation completely foreign to them – and where they have to spend money to buy water and firewood they used to be able to get for free.
But while their homes will be flooded, not all of their land will. Much of their rice paddies – whose soil is excellent – will not flood, nor will areas for grazing livestock.
Now, in a massive land grab – a massive rights violation on top of a massive rights violation – they face the threat of eviction from the entire area. The pressure has been building for some time already. For two years, children in the villages have not been able to go to school. Both villages have schools, where classes used to be held. But government teachers who dared teach there would be fired from their jobs. Students are held hostage. There are no health services, and authorities have made no effort to maintain roads to the villages. Even a cellphone antenna has been removed. Just last week, the bridge that connects the communities to the rest of Stung Treng town was removed with no discussion of options for those who choose to stay.
The communities suspect that the land will be used for agro-industry. In the past, land around the villages was given as an economic land concession to An Marady company, but protests by the communities forced the company to pull out.
The communities are concerned that violence will be used against them. Authorities have said they will use force to evict the families still living in the villages. The day the bridge was removed, an estimated 200 armed forces were present.
Those remaining in Sre Kor and Kbal Romeas plan to stay in place and make floating houses in which to live. They want to keep their villages. They want to remind the world how they have been discriminated against and their rights violate. Furthermore, according to Yun Mane, former Executive Director of Cambodia Indigenous Peoples Organisation (CIPO), “they want to reiterate that this case presents continued disrespect of the Cambodian government to land rights of indigenous peoples as cited in Cambodia Land Law of 2001 and Forest Law of 2002.”
While indigenous communities around Cambodia and their support organizations across the world have called attention to the imminent threats against those still in the villages, the authorities have already resorted to aggressive measures. On 23 July, civil society representatives and 23 indigenous peoples traveling from Mondulkiri to show support to the communities of Stung Treng were detained. They were soon released after the peoples of Kbal Romeas village numbering to around 100 protested on the incident. Further updates on the incident are yet to be received.
“The ongoing forced evictions of communities in Stung Treng constitute an outright and grave violation of the national and international human rights obligations of Cambodia, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” said Gam A. Shimray, Secretary General of Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact. “The government and the project developers should immediately halt the filling of the reservoir and find amicable resolution with the indigenous communities with respect for their security and rights, including to free, prior and informed consent on how the dam can operate.”
For more information, please contact:
Cambodia Indigenous Peoples Alliance (CIPA)
Joyce Godio, Human Rights Programme Officer
Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)
+66 (0)93 209 5885; firstname.lastname@example.org
Click here to download full statement.