Home / News / Urgent Appeals / GENERAL APPEAL(Cambodia): Turning off fresh water supply; flooding villages; filling up a lake to force eviction of residents living on the banks in Phnom Penh

GENERAL APPEAL(Cambodia): Turning off fresh water supply; flooding villages; filling up a lake to force eviction of residents living on the banks in Phnom Penh

October 16, 2008


Urgent Appeal General: AHRC-UAG-014-2008

17 October 2008
CAMBODIA: Turning off fresh water supply; flooding villages; filling up a lake to force eviction of residents living on the banks in Phnom Penh

ISSUES: Forced eviction; right to land; right to housing

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has learned with great alarm that the Phnom Penh Municipality has resorted to certain draconian measures.  It turned off the fresh water supply. It flooded villages by filling up Boeung Kak Lake in Phnom Penh in an attempt to evict thousands of families living on the banks.  These eviction tactics are being resisted. The Municipality has leased the entire lake and its bank to Sukaku Company for development for 99 years for USD 79 million. It is pressuring these families to accept unjust compensation and vacate the area.

CASE DETAILS: (Sources: Chhung Chu Ngy, lawyer; Phom Penh; Am Sam Ath, LICADHO human rights NGO, Phnom Penh; an unidentified resident)

In February 2007, the Phnom Penh Municipality signed a lease awarding a contract to the Sukaku development company. They were given the right to fill in Boeung Kak Lake and use the reclaimed land for development. The lake and its bank altogether comprise 133 hectares. The lease runs for 99 years against payment of USD 79 million to the authorities. Sukaku's project includes a commercial centre, a university, a leisure centre and/or luxury housing estates.

Over 4,000 families are living on and around the lake. After the contract was finalized, the HSC sand-dredging company laid pipeline from Tonle Sap River to the lake. The filling in of the lake was postponed under after the July election for fear of losing support for the ruling party. Work started in August 2008. The lake residents became alarmed, took to the streets and staged a protest in front of city hall.  The families demanded that they be furnished with legal entitlement to their land and just compensation should they vacate their homes and lands.

The authorities met with over 400 of the residents and offered them three forms of compensation: (1) new houses to be built in the Boeung Kak Lake area; (2) houses in a resettlement area on the outskirts of Phnom Penh plus 2 millions riels (USD 500); and (3) compensation in cash of up to USD 8,000.  According to the same authorities, 434 out of 1172 families who have their houses built on the lake itself have accepted one or other of these forms of compensation. However, those who have accepted houses in the resettlement area have been disappointed with the quality of the houses provided. They lack basic public services such as running water, electricity, and thrash collection, which serve as a deterrent to other lake residents taking up these options. 

The rest of the lake residents have remained on their land. They found the proposed forms of compensation "inadequate" because: the relocation site is too far away from their jobs, lacks both social infrastructure and transportation into town; USD 8,000 cash compensation is too low to buy a house in town where house prices are many times higher; a long wait for new houses to be built with high house rents to be paid while waiting. The residents are demanding compensation equivalent to the market price of the land they are occupying.

The municipal authorities have dismissed their demands, claiming that they have no right to make such demands, arguing that the residents have occupied public state land.

While they were in the process of rejecting the authorities' offer, the sand-dredging company, on 26 August 2008 started its filling operations which raised the level of the water in the lake. The residents requested suspension of the filling operation but to no avail. Now many sections of streets and lanes in the villages on the bank have been flooded, making it difficult for residents to travel back and forth. 

Furthermore, on September 22, over 100 families living on the lake found that their running water supply was suddenly stopped without any prior notice, forcing them to buy water at high prices from vendors. Lake residents have received threats to cut off their power supply.  Unidentified people have destroyed the floating, water morning-glory vegetable that some residents have grown on the lake to earn their living.

Lake residents have seen that the filling in of the lake, the resulting flooding and the cut off of tap water are means by which the authorities seek to pressure them into accepting the municipal authorities' offer and vacate the area in favor of the Sukaku Company.

This is yet another form of forced eviction that has surfaced now that openly forced evictions   have been widely condemned. A blockade has been used before to cut off food supplies in the eviction of the Dey Kraham community in Phnom Penh (AHRC-UAU-006-2008) and of villagers in Kompong Thom province (AHRC-UAG-003-2008).

They have filed a complaint in the court of first instance in Phnom Penh to secure an injunction to stop the filling in of the lake. But on September 22, the court ruled against issuing such an injunction, saying that it had jurisdiction only over registered lands. Their lands were not registered. Their case was under the jurisdiction of the Cadastral Committee. They have now appealed this court decision.

In parallel with their protests they have also called upon their Prime Minister, who has supported land -grabbing victims in the past, and the Parliament, to stop the devastating filling in of the lake. They asked help in securing compensation equivalent to the market price of their lands, ranging from USD 1,500 to USD 2,000 per square meter.


The Sukaku Company is a local company whose director is Senator Lao Meng Khin, a member of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP). It is widely known that the rich and powerful are involved in land grabbing. In 2007 Prime Minister Hun said that land gabbers were "CPP officials" and "people in power".

According to Cambodia's Land Law (2001), lakes are public state land (Art.15) and as such cannot be sold or leased (Art. 16). So the lease of Boeung Kak Lake by the Phnom Penh Municipality in February 2007 was illegal. But in August 2008, in order to legalize the lease, the government made it into private state land, which according to the same law can be sold or leased (Art. 17). Still, the same lease, which was an economic land concession, was in breach of the government sub-decree on economic land concessions which requires, among other things, prior public consultations, which had not been conducted.

Many of Beoung Kak Lake residents have been peacefully occupying the contested land since the early 1980s without any protest from the authorities. Well before the enactment of the Land Law and, by virtue of its Art. 30, they should be entitled to the lands they have occupied. In Cambodia, courts of law are widely known to be under political control and also under the influence of the rich and powerful.

 Almost in the heart of Phnom Penh city, Boeung Kak Lake is known as a "unique" spot in the city, from an environmental point of view. It will be a great loss to all citizens if the lake is filled up.

Please write letters to the authorities listed below requesting them to suspend the lake filling operation, turn on the tap water supplies to all lake residents, pay compensation which is commensurate with the market price of their homes and lands, and desist from all forms of forced eviction.

Please be informed that the AHRC has also written separate letters to the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Special Representative of the Secretary-General of human rights in Cambodia and OHCHR in Cambodia calling for intervention in this case.

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Dear _____,

CAMBODIA: Turning off fresh water supply; flooding villages; filling up a lake to force eviction of residents living on the banks in Phnom Penh

Victims: The residents of Boeung Kak Lake, Srah Chak, Daun Penh district, Phom Penh
Alleged perpetrator: The Municipality of Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh
Place of incidence: Boeung Kak Lake, Srah Chak, Daun Penh district, Phom Penh

I am writing to express my deep concern over the measures the Municipality of Phnom Penh has taken to evict over 4,000 families living on Boeung Kak Lake and its banks in Srah Chak Commune, Daun Penh district, Phnom Penh, when the residents rejected their eviction without just compensation.

These measures include the sudden stoppage of the running water supply to over 100 families starting from 22 September 2008, the threat of cutting off their power supply, the destruction of floating, water morning-glory vegetable and the flooding of the lake's banks through filling from August 2008 onwards. Victims of the water stoppage have been forced to buy water at high prices from vendors. Flooding has covered many sections of the streets and lanes on the banks of the lake, greatly curtailing peoples' mobility in the area.

These measures are meant to make life harder for the lake residents. It puts pressure on them to accept the Municipality's offers of: relocation on the outskirts of Phnom Phnom Penh, cash compensation or new houses to be built in Boeung Kak lake area-compensation which the overwhelming majority have found "inadequate" to maintain their livelihood. They have rejected all these forms of compensation and pursued their demand for compensation commensurate with the market price of their homes and lands.

Evicting residents and the measures used in order to vacate the lake area in favour of the Shukaku development company is inhumane. It must be noted that the Municipality had leased the area in February 2007 for 99 years for USD 79 million. This lease is in breach of Cambodia's Land Law (2001) which prohibits the sale or lease of any public state property. Boeung Kak Lake was just such a property at the time of the lease arrangements. The Sub-Decree on Economic Land Concessions (2005) requires, among other things, public consultations prior to any lease agreements.

Therefore, I strongly urge your government to immediately abandon these inhumane measures. Turn the water back on, stop the threats of cutting power supplies, stop any further destruction of resident framers' floating, water morning-glory vegetable on the lake, suspend filling in of the lake, and ensure no further flooding of the area. I also request you to pay the just compensation that the residents have requested. It is unjust and inhuman to make their lives worse off for the benefit of the better off.

I trust you will positively consider my requests above.

Yours sincerely,



1. Mr. Hun Sen
Prime Minister
Cabinet of the Prime Minister
No. 38, Russian Federation Street
Phnom Penh
Tel: +855 23 219 898
Fax: +855 23 360 666
E-mail: cabinet1b@camnet.com.kh

2. Mr. Sar Kheng
Deputy-Prime Minister
Minister of Interior
No.275 Norodom Blvd., Phnom Penh
Tel/Fax: +855 23 721 905; +855 23 726 052; +855 23 721 190
E-mail: info@interior.gov.kh

3. Mr. Keo Chutema
Municipality of Phnom Penh
Nº. 69, Preah Monivong Boulevard
12201 Phnom Penh
Tel: +855 23 430 214
Tel/Fax: +855 23 42 68 66; +855 23 72 20 54; +855 23 72 41 26; +855 23 72 41 26; +855 23 72 41 56; +855 3 21 10 81
E-mail: phnompenh@phnompenh.gov.kh
4. Mr. Lao Meng Khin
Senate of the Kingdom of Cambodia
Chamcarmon State Building
Norodom Boulevard
Phnom Penh
Tel: +855 21 1441-3
Fax: +855 21 1446
E-mail: info@senate.gov.kh

5. Mr. Chan Sarun
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
Nº. 200, Norodom Boulevard
12301 Phnom Penh
Tel: +855 23 211 351-2; +855 23 215 321
Tel/Fax: +855 23 211 411
Fax: +855 23 217 320
E-Mail: maff@everyday.com.kh

6. Mr. Im Chhun Lim
Senior Minister
Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning & Construction
Nº. 771-773, Preah Monivong Boulevard
Phnom Penh
Tel: +855 23 994 139; +855 23 217 027; +855 23 215 278-90
Tel/Fax: +855 23 211 354
Fax: +855 23 215 277; +855 23 217 035
E-mail: gdadmin-mlmupc@camnet.com.kh

7. General Hok Lundy
National Police Commissioner
General-Commisariat of National Police
Phnom Penh
Tel: +855 23 21 65 85
Fax: +855 23 22 09 52

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrchk.org)

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Extended Introduction: Urgent Appeals, theory and practice

A need for dialogue

Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like. 

Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor. 

Though the media may cover the issues in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is rarely encouraged in the public realm.

There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those less fortunate.  Moral and ethical qualms can also be an obstacle.

In this way, causes for complaint go unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

Changing society

In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and were therefore controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

Practical action

The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.   

At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

"The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right."

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