Cambodia’s land and natural resources are subject to systematic exploitation by private corporations, both domestic and foreign. As a result, hundreds of thousands of families - most of which are from poor or indigenous communities - suffer mass land evictions and displacement, often through violent means. These actions occur in violation of Cambodia’s domestic law and international law, regularly with the support of governmental authorities, leaving affected communities without compensation or means to support themselves.
At EC’s Development Watch (DW) program, we support communities whose housing, land and natural resource rights are infringed by corporate activities that receive backing from private investors or institutions, as well as from authorities. Through evidence-based advocacy, strategic litigation and non-judicial dispute resolution on harmful development, trade, and investment activities, Development Watch seeks peaceful and legally-motivated resolutions to land-rights conflicts based on community-led initiatives - through accountability, redress, and restitution.
EC’s Follow the Money to Justice initiative is the flagship effort of Development Watch, giving us the tools necessary to find the financial backers of exploitative activity and seek resolutions on a case-by-case basis.
Follow the Money to Justice
Behind most large-scale development projects in Cambodia, there are webs of investors, banks, and other actors that make the project possible.
Knowing who is financing a project, who is buying the product or raw material, and who else is making the project possible and profitable – in other words, following the money – opens up a range of opportunities for improved accountability.
In partnership with Inclusive Development International, our Follow the Money Initiative uses investigative tools to map the investment chains behind development projects that adversely affect vulnerable families and communities. Using licensed financial databases and open data sources, the project assists local advocates in mapping investment and supply chains, identifying pressure points, and devising and executing tailored advocacy strategies to increase transparency and accountability for land development projects throughout Cambodia.
To learn more about the Follow the Money Initiative, please visit https://www.followingthemoney.org/
The Mosaic Project
The Mosaic Project is part of Climate Change Mitigation, Conflict and Cooperation consortium funded by the Department for International Development (DfID) and the National Science Foundation of the Netherlands (NWO). The project is active in Cambodia and Myanmar, investigating the intersections between land-based Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation strategies and large-scale land acquisitions for agro-industrial production. This is an academic-advocacy partnership and researchers from the Institute for Social Studies, in The Hague, and the Regional Center for Sustainable Development, at Chiang Mai University partner with national advocacy NGOs and grassroots community based organizations in research that works at both the grassroots and policy levels.
In Cambodia, there are increasing numbers of land-based Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation strategies landing in already tenure-insecure areas. These include conservation initiatives, projects for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+), reforestation projects, irrigation projects, and the production of feedstocks (sugar cane and cassava) available for ethanol production. Equitable Cambodia works with its to train local researchers in data collection, advocacy and negotiation. Bringing together the skills of grassroots community activists, national level advocacy organizations, and academic research and publishing, we work toward finding equitable solutions to community vulnerability that can be caused by climate change mitigation or adaptation projects. researchers share data and information from the with academics, who examine global, regional, and national trends or international policies that relate to land use changes that are negatively impacting communities.
To learn more about the Mosaic Project, please visit: https://www.iss.nl
Since EC’s founding, our organization has been involved in seeking equitable resolutions for some of Cambodia’s largest land dispute cases. Development Watch is currently monitoring and campaigning on cases where we believe evidence-based advocacy has a significant likelihood of being successful and creating important precedents. Our cases are the Sugar Case, the Rubber Case, the Airport Case and the Railway Case. Our past cases include the Boeung Kak Lake Case. For more information on each of our cases please visit the ‘Our Cases’ section.
Development Watch Research
Equitable Cambodia has partnered with a number of local and international organizations and scholars to produce research on foreign investment, land issues, and their impact on Cambodia’s most vulnerable populations. Our latest projects are below.
Examines the Land Management and Administration Project (LMAP) which was initiated in order to implement key parts of Cambodia’s 2001 Land Law in the context of increasing tenure insecurity and violations of land rights in the country.
The paper proposes a better approach to development intervention in the land sector where the project cycle and broader country strategy incorporate processes and tools that elevate rights, transparency and accountability. It calls for development partners to utilize a ten-pronged framework for a human rights approach to development.
The Development Watch Program has also published reports related to the advocacy cases it works on (see below.)
- Bittersweet Harvest: A Human Rights Impact Assessment of the European Union’s Everything But Arms Initiative in Cambodia.
Using the international human rights framework, the assessment finds that both Cambodia’s policy of awarding land concessions to private investors for agro-industrial development such as sugar plantations, and the EU’s EBA policy that stimulates this investment can have devastating human rights impacts. Officially launched on September 17, 2013 and sent to the European Parliament.
- DERAILED: A Study on the Resettlement Process and Impacts of the Rehabilitation of the Cambodian Railways
Over 200 in-depth interviews with affected households were conducted throughout Cambodia to ascertain the extent to which the Asian Development Bank (ADB) backed Railway Project has complied with ADB Policy on Involuntary Resettlement and international law.
In early January 2013, the Cambodian media and the international press reported the signing of a major deal with two Chinese companies for a railway construction and port development project, joining a new steel plant in Preah Vihear province to the coastal area of Koh Kong province. The project includes a purpose-built port and over 400 kilometres of railway running from the north of the country to the southwest. Although the project involves multiple components, for the purposes of this paper it will be referred to as the North-South Railway Project.
If it goes forward as planned, the project will be the biggest development in Cambodia’s history. However, an extensive search reveals, there still remains a lack of publicly available information with regard to many aspects of the project. The brief seeks to provide an overview of available information compiled from media reports, company websites, and other available sources.
DW lobbies governments and partners to adopt policies that improve security of tenure for vulnerable groups and improve resettlement safeguards, through:
- Advocacy on draft Agricultural Law
- Human rights analysis and advocacy on Informal Settlements resettlement sub-decree
- Advocacy on operationalization of Circular 03 and UN Habitat funded urban poverty reduction