The Railway Case
The Rehabilitation of the Railway in Cambodia Project was launched in 2006 to restore the Cambodian railway system in disrepair since the Khmer Rouge era. The project was financed mainly through a USD 84 million concessional loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and USD 23 million in aid from Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID). More than 4000 families lived and or operated businesses along the railway lines from the capital of Phnom Penh to Battambang and Poipet provinces in the north, and to Sihanoukville province in the south. The “Railway Project” led to the resettlement of many of these families living along the tracks with devastating consequences.
As presented in the 2012 report “Derailed”, published by Bridges Across Borders Cambodia (EC’s predecessor), families living along the railway were threatened and intimidated throughout the resettlement process and compensation provided to affected families was inadequate, even for basic housing. Some resettlement sites were too far from the original urban residences, making it impossible for people to maintain their jobs and infrastructure at the sites was lacking. The income restoration program set up to help families commenced with significant delays and activities were so poorly designed that the program was unable to create new sources of income. As a result of this shameful resettlement process, many families were forced to take on high debts in order to meet their basic needs.
As a requirement of taking the loan from the ADB, the Government of Cambodia (GoC) must comply with ADB’s Policy on Resettlement when resettling families displaced by the Railway Project. This includes providing proper compensation, ensuring that those resettled have at least the same living standard as before, and improving the living conditions of poor and vulnerable families. The GoC must also adhere to international law to respect and protect the human rights of the families. The ADB and AusAID as financiers of the project have the duty to monitor the resettlement process and see that it complies with human rights obligations and relevant policies. Despite warnings from affected communities and NGOs, the GoC, the ADB and AusAID largely ignored their legal and policy obligations.
Complaint to the ADB Accountability Mechanism (Compliance Review Panel)
In August 2012, EC’s partner Inclusive Development International (IDI) submitted a request for investigation to the ADB’s internal accountability mechanism, the Compliance Review Panel (CRP), to assess if the resettlement process was in compliance with ADB's policies and project documentation. After a year and a half investigation, the CRP released a Final Report, which found that families displaced by the Railway Project suffered losses of property, livelihoods and income and “as a result have borne a disproportionate cost and burden of the development efforts funded by ADB". The CRP stressed that "these problems were the result of failure to implement ADB operational policies and procedures" and attributed most of the actions and omissions to ADB.
Importantly, the CRP concluded that the ADB Management needed to take resettlement and environmental issues seriously and give them the priority they deserve. They also stated that ADB staff must significantly change their mentality by recognizing that involuntary resettlement should be an opportunity for communities to develop, and that this principle is already endorsed by ADB safeguard policies.
The CRP issued several recommendations to provide remedies to affected families, including establishing a compensation deficit payment scheme ranging between $3 and $4 million; improving facilities on resettlement sites; improving the functioning of the grievance redress mechanism; developing an appropriate capacity-building program on resettlement for local authorities; developing a debt workout scheme to help highly indebted families repay their debts; and expanding the income restoration program. On January 31, 2014, ADB's Board of Directors approved the CRP's findings and adopted the recommendations with no major modifications. The CRP will be monitoring the implementation of the ADB Board’s recommendations each year until 2019. EC, IDI and affected families continue calling upon ADB's Management to implement an action plan that effectively provides remedies to project affected communities.
On August 30, 2015, families that did not move to the resettlement and remained along the railway tracks submitted another complaint to the CRP with the support of EC and IDI, which presented new evidence of harms resulting from the Railway project. The second complaint was deemed not eligible for further investigations because the problems had already been covered by the CRP in its first compliance review report. However, in its report on the review of eligibility, the CRP agreed that the new complainants were negatively affected by the project given that the houses lost by the complainants were the result of noncompliance with ADB's policies. The CRP instead recommended that the new grievances be remedied under the current remedial action plan that was previously adopted by ADB's Board of Directors.
Complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission
EC and its partner IDI submitted a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) on behalf of 30 families affected by the Railway project in October 2012. The complaint states that by providing aid to the project the Australian Government failed to comply with its international human rights obligations. Moreover, the complaint recommended AusAID to adopt human rights policies that prevent future breaches of human rights resulting from its projects.
The AHRC released its findings in December 2013 claiming that the Commission did not have the power to make legal decision outside of the Australian territory for human rights violations that occurred in Cambodia.
See Below for our Reports, Key Documents, and latest news on Cambodia’s Railway Project
Equitable Cambodia Reports:
- Remedy Derailed: Briefing Note on the Status of Remedial Actions in the Rehabilitation of the Cambodian Railway Project (April 2016)
- DERAILED: A study on the resettlement process and impacts of the rehabilitation of Cambodia’s railway, Bridges Across Borders Cambodia, February 2012
Partner NGO Reports:
- End of the Line: Impacts of Resettlement Under the Railway Project in Phnom Penh, Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, May 2013
- Losing the Plot: Rapid Assessment of Household Debt in Trapeang Anchanh, Sahmakum Teang Tnaut June 2012
- Railway Relocation: six women tell their stories, Sahmakum Teang Tnaut and Housing Rights Task Force, April 2012
- Rehabilitation of Cambodia’s Railways: A comparison of field data, Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, July 2011
Key Documents for Compliant to the ADB Compliance Review Panel:
- First Complaint to the Compliance Review Panel
- Compliance Review Panel Final Report and Board Decision
- ADB Management’s Action Plan to Implement the Board Decision
- Equitable Cambodia and IDI Comments on Management’s Action Plan
- Second Complaint to the Compliance Review Panel
- CRP Report on Eligibility (November 2015)
- CRP 1st Annual Monitoring Report
- CRP 2nd Annual Monitoring Report
Key Documents for Complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission:
Media Releases and News Articles:
Press Release: Cambodian Railway Development Causes Human Rights Violations – AusAid complicit, Complaint Submitted Today to the Australian Human Rights Commission, Inclusive Development International and Equitable Cambodia, 5 October 2012