On the eve of World Habitat Day, gunshots were fired into the air of Boeung Kak Lake Village 22, in the heart of Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh.
In February 2007, Shukaku Inc. paid $79 million for a 99-year lease of the lake and surrounding land, which was occupied by thousands of families, many of whom legally owned the property they inhabited. The company – which is headed by Lao Meng Khin, a senator affiliated with the ruling party and chairman of the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce – began filling in the lake in 2008. After all, the 1-km2 lake was situated on prime real estate. No mind that it was essential to the livelihoods of many families who fished in the lake, or worked along the waterfront. Or that for thousands of people it was home. Or that the lake was both a beautiful space for all in the city – and key to preventing urban floods during the rainy season. The lake is now being systematically filled in, and the surrounding residents removed to make way for high-end property development. Some 4,000 families have already been evicted. Compensation is in many cases far less than the value of their property.
The United Nations defines forced evictions as “the involuntary removal of persons from their homes or land, directly or indirectly attributable to the State.” Those subject to forced evictions, as defined by the UN, have legitimate claims to the property in question and these claims are subverted by authorities without adequate compensation. Evictions are widespread throughout the world, and in Cambodia have become especially widespread. It’s not just Boeung Kak Lake. All across Cambodia, poor people – and many who are not-so-poor, are having their homes and properties sold out from under them. They are forcibly removed under threat of violence, and often end up in the direst of circumstances. According to a recent article in The Guardian, 30,000 people are displaced by forced evictions annually in Cambodia.
The good news is that international pressure can make a difference – and in a context where authorities intimidate (and worse) activists, journalists, and NGOs, support from Amnesty International and human rights supporters around the world is essential. In August of this year, the World Bank suspended further lending after NGOs raised critical issues around the “development” of Boeung Kak Lake. Please add your voice opposing forced evictions in Boeung Kak Lake and across Cambodia.