We are residents of villages from different provinces and Phnom Penh in Cambodia, including the areas around the Tonle Sap. We are farmers, fishers, agricultural workers and communities who depend on land, forests, rivers, lakes and other natural resources for our lives and livelihoods.
We have come together today to share with people, information about the situation that we and millions of Cambodians are facing, as a result of the development plans of the Royal Government of Cambodia. Rural people in Cambodia have been facing grave crises for many years now. Despite our country’s natural wealth rural people continue to become poorer.
Cambodia has a lot of fresh water through its lakes, streams and rivers, and is home to a unique eco-system created by the Tonle Sap lake and Mekong river. The Tonle Sap, Mekong and other river systems feed not only the millions of Cambodians who live on their banks, but also many others in the country. Cambodia has a lot of fertile agricultural land, mountains and forests that sustain families from generation to generation.
However, the development direction and plans that our government has adopted are transferring our lands, forests, water, fish, minerals and other natural resources into the hands of a few wealthy, high ranking and politically powerful people. In particular, we would like to bring to your attention the following issues.
Despite government interventions, Economic land concessions (ELCs) continue to destroy our livelihoods, environments and the potential of our future generations. ELCs have converted diverse landscapes and forests into mono-crop disasters, displaced families and entire communities, and have made daily life so difficult that people are forced to move to other places to survive. Agricultural and forest lands are also being taken by the military, often overlapping with ELCs.
Large-scale irrigation systems capture and divert precious water away from our streams, rivers and fields towards the companies that take our land through ELCs. Local people often lose their lands and livestock, and are unable to move freely between villages and farmlands because of irrigation infrastructure.
After the cancellation of private fishing lots by the government, our fisheries have come under serious threat because of collusion between fisheries authorities and commercial fishers. The use of illegal fishing equipment, fishing in conservation areas and destruction of fish habitat have increased, and fisheries administration officials do not take action against perpetrators because they are paid by them.
When we take actions to defend our lands, forests, water, fisheries and natural resources, we are threatened, intimidated and put in jail. The legal system does not offer us any justice, and our communities are divided and manipulated by small amounts of cash compensation. But no amount of money can compensate for the destruction of nature and the hardships faced by our children and youth.
We ask the members of the Cambodian Parliament and the country’s leaders to come to our areas, talk to our families and communities, and see for themselves the impacts of these destructive trends on our lives and environments. Policies, laws and plans are made without consulting ordinary people like us, who get no benefits from them but who bear the brunt of their negative impacts.
Further, we ask that all ELCs be stopped immediately and all existing land-forest conflicts be resolved very soon with fairness to affected peoples. The legal system must be amended to recognize the rights of people and communities to protect and govern natural resources. Courts must stop criminalizing people who go to them for justice and must uphold the rights of those who are vulnerable.
Cambodia belongs to its peoples, not just to those who are rich, privileged and politically powerful. We will continue our struggles to win real justice and well-being for our communities.
Ms. Oum Sophy, Lor Peang Community Representative. Phone: 078 705 936
Mr. Doul Vutha, Tonle Sap Fishery-Kampong Chhnang. Phone: 092 905 732
Ms. Yin Pich, Phnom Kouk Community Representative. Phone: 012 341 757
Mr. Kouch Veng, Kbal Trach Community Representative. Phone: 012 480 676