The Railway Case

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:

Partner NGO Reports:

Key Documents for Compliant to the ADB Compliance Review Panel:

Key Documents for Complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission:

Media Releases and News Articles:

ADB Compliance Review Panel calls for urgent action to help families living along the railway, Inclusive Development International, November 25, 2015

Railway families file separate complaint to ADB Bank, The Cambodia Daily, August 31, 2015

Families threatened by Cambodia railway development again seek justice from the Asian Development Bank’s Accountability Mechanism, Inclusive Development International, August 31, 2015

Aus called out on railway, Phnom Penh Post, May 16, 2014

We can’t ignore Cambodia’s railroaded poor, by Natalie Bugalski, May 14, 2014, The Age

Time for a mind shift at ADB on displacing the poor, by David Pred, May 2, 2014, Devex 

ADB says aid plan for railway evictees still under negotiation, The Cambodia Daily, May 1, 2014

Government agrees to review of railway evictees, The Cambodia Daily, April 30, 2014

Evicted railway families await ADB’s help, The Cambodia Daily, April 4, 2014

Railway leaves area in limbo, Phnom Penh Post, February 12, 2014

ADB’s failings in Cambodian resettlement plan, Deutsche Welle, February 12, 2014

ADB waters down plans to amend mistakes in Cambodia, The Cambodia Daily, February 10, 2014

Asian Development Bank report finds Cambodian rail repair project has left thousands of families worse off, Radio Australia, February 10, 2014

Cambodian aid project partly funded by Australia led to child deaths, report finds, Sydney Morning Herald, February 9, 2014

ADB Railway project made major mistakes, The Cambodia Daily, February 8, 2014

Internal review slams ADB’s railway resettlement plan, VOA, February 7, 2014

Report:  Development bank’s Cambodia rail project left thousands in poverty, Asian Correspondent, February 7, 2014

Worse off than before, Phnom Penh Post, February 7, 2014

Joint Statement:  ADB slammed in official investigation of Cambodia railway resettlement, ordered by Board to repair the damage done

ADB admits fault in rail project, pledges compensation, The Cambodia Daily, February 3, 2014 

Joint Statement:  Cambodia Resettlement Debacle – ADB Conceals Critical Expert Report, Inclusive Development International, Equitable Cambodia and Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, March 18, 2013

AusAid project ‘abusing rights’, The Age, October 11, 2012

AusAid defenders human rights concerns over Cambodia railways project, The Age, October 10, 2012

Rebuilding Cambodia’s troubled railways, ABC, October 10, 2012

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

Press Release:  Families Displaced by Cambodian Railway Development Seek Justice from the Asian Development Bank, Inclusive Development International and Equitable Cambodia, 28 August 2012

Families told to vacate land needed for railway station, Cambodia Daily, 20 August 2012

Propaganda mill at full tilt, by Natalie Bugalski, Phnom Penh Post, 2 July 2012

Toll Royal derails regional projects, Don Wienland, Phnom Penh Post, May 1, 2012

ADB petition response provokes villagers, Phnom Penh Post, April 19, 2012

Urgent Action Appeal: Cambodian woman threatened with death, Amnesty International, April 13, 2012

Joint Statement: Railway replacement cost study does not reflect reality, March 25, 2012

DERAILED: Cambodia’s poor paying the price for railway development, by David Pred, February 23, 2012, WITNESS

The ADB involuntary resettlement policy: Fifteen years on, the poorest still bear the brunt of development, by Natalie Bugalski, February 23, 2012, TerraNullius

Tracking aid in Cambodia: Monitoring the resettlement impacts of the Railways Rehabilitation Project, by Natalie Bugalski, January 3, 2011, TerraNullius

Cambodian rail line to displace country’s poor, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, May, 13, 2011

Two child deaths linked to AusAID Cambodia project, The Age, November 1, 2010