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CAMBODIA: Development firm allegedly hires gunmen to extort poor villagers through an illegal toll-booth

March 28, 2007

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ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

Urgent Appeal

28 March 2007
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UA-102-2007: CAMBODIA: Development firm allegedly hires gunmen to extort poor villagers through an illegal toll-booth

CAMBODIA: Corruption; illegal extortion
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information regarding a Chinese investment company that has allegedly set up an illegal toll booth to extort money from travelers in Kratie province on 21 March 2007. The company named Global Agricultural Development Cambodia Co. Ltd has allegedly hired gunmen to guard the illegal toll booth and have already been involved in allegedly extorting 30,000 Reil (US$ 7.5) from four villagers who where traveling across the road with their three oxcarts. The toll booth is unlawful and has no purpose other than to generate profit for a company that is known for conducting illegal and irresponsible business practices. However, the local authorities have not taken any action regarding this matter. In fact, in another occasion, the same company had allegedly evicted local villagers without ever providing compensation in Kratie province (See further: UA-013-2007 and UP-006-2007).

CASE DETAILS:

On 21 March 2007, four armed guards, who were hired to operate the toll both, allegedly extorted 30,000 Reil (USD 7.50) from four villagers named Preap Buntheun, Vidy, Sao Vy, and Ngoal.  The villagers were traveling by oxcart and did not have enough money to cover the fee. As a result, the men where forced to discontinue their journey and wait five hours between 12:00 pm and 5:00 pm, until family members arrived and paid the charge for their passage.

The road in question has acted as a connector for locals to the National Road number 7, towards Kak Tha village, Ralous Meanchey commune, Sambo district, Kratie province. It is an old road that has been used by villagers for many years. The company began a reconstruction project of the road which began on 12 December 2006 was finished in January of this year. Since its completion, the company has been extorting money from locals. Each passenger that crosses on motorbike and oxcart must pay a 10,000 Riel (USD 2.50) fee. In order to ensure that payment is received, the company has hired security guards who are armed with rifles and electric batons. 

The AHRC stresses that the company has no legal right to hire security guards for the purpose of extracting money from villages using the road. Cambodia also does not have any laws which grant permission to construction firms to introduce road tolls. The Ministry of Forestry and Fisheries must be held accountable for the company's illegal behavior since they are the government agency that had originally hired their services. The Ministry of Public Works and Transport should also be held accountable for failing to take action against such illegal act. The road is a public domain and restricting its use through incorporating illegal fees must be seen as criminal.

The AHRC therefore urges the Kratie provincial governor to take immediately action against the company. We also urge the ministry who signed the original construction contracts with the company to immediately take action against Global Agricultural Development Cambodia Co. Ltd in order to allow the freedom of movement. We also urge the National Assembly to take action against this company and also create laws against road fees during a time when most Cambodians are living in poverty and cannot afford such fees. 

BACKGROUND INFORMARION:

This is not the first time Global Agricultural Development Cambodia Co. Ltd has acted illegally. It is allegedly responsible for burning down local villagers houses without ever providing compensation. On 15 March 2006, the Ministry of Agriculture signed a 70 year lease contract with the Chinese investment company Global Agricultural Development Cambodia Co. Ltd to develop teak plantations. After signing the contract, the company began bulldozing the 9800 hectares of land and started to divide the area into plots set out for the new plantations and the company's office.

The land that was granted by the state is from two communes in the Sambo district named O Kriang and Khbal Dom Rey. The total amount of agricultural land that was taken over in O Kriang commune is 1138 hectares, with another 1448 hectares of land from Khbal Dom Rey. However, the government contends that they only reclaimed 51 hectares of cultivated land from O Kriang commune and another 69 hectares from Khbal Dom Rey commune. The company has provided no compensation to the villagers and the government continues to show little interest in resolving the dispute. Also, the government had not initiated any consultation with the local people whether the land concession will affect their agriculture (See further: UA-013-2007).

In January 2007, workers from the company had burned the fields and forest over the area of 9,800 hectares of land in order to clear space to grow the teak plantations. The fire then spread onto land belonging to local residents and burned at least one wooden house that was owned by Oun Theurn. Oun Theurn's not only lost his home, but also his cultivated land for producing rice and most of his possessions (See further: UP-006-2007).


SUGESSTED ACTION:
Please write to the authorities listed below to urge them to intervene in this matter. Please urge them to take action against the company Global Agricultural Development Cambodia Co. Ltd. and to remove the toll both and stop illegal extraction of the money from the villagers.  

To support this appeal, please click:

Sample letter:

Dear __________,

CAMBODIA: Development firm hires gunmen to extort poor villagers through an illegal toll-booth

Victims: Local villagers and travelers in Meanchey commune, including four villagers named: Preap Buntheun, Vidy, Sao Vy and Ngoa
Those who are allegedly responsible:
1) Global Agricultural Development Cambodia Co. Ltd base in Sambo district, Kratie province
2) Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries
3) Kratie provincial authority
Date of incident: from January 2007 to date
Place of incident: The road to the National Road number 7, towards Kak Tha village, Ralous Meanchey commune, Sambo district, Kratie province

I am writing to express my deep concern over the alleged extortion of the villagers including the four villagers mentioned above by hired gunman at an illegal toll-booth that is managed by a Chinese investment company named Global Agricultural Development Cambodia Ltd in Kratie Province. 

According to the information I have received, four armed guards who are hired to man the toll both allegedly extorted 30,000 Reil (USD 7.50) from four villagers named Preap Buntheun, Vidy, Sao Vy, and Ngoal. As they did not have enough money to cover the fee, the villagers were forced to wait for five hours until family members came and paid the charge for their passage.

The road in question has acted as a connector for locals to the National Road number 7, towards Kak Tha village, Ralous Meanchey commune, Sambo district, Kratie province. It is an old road that has been used by villagers for many years. I am informed that the said company reconstructed the road and since its completion, it has been extorting money from locals. Each passenger that crosses on motorbike and oxcart must pay a 10,000 Riel (USD 2.50) fee.

I want to draw your attention that such act by the company is illegal as Cambodia does not have any laws which grant permission to construction firms to introduce road tolls. The road is a public domain and restricting its use through incorporating illegal fees must be seen as criminal.

I also know that this is not the first time this company has acted illegally. In January 2007, I know that the same company that was involved in destroying homes and not providing any compensation to the local villagers they were forcefully evicting from O Kriang commune and Khbal Dom Rey commune, Sambo district, Kratie province. 

I therefore strongly urge the Kratie provincial governor to immediately take legal action against the company. I also urge the government ministry who had originally signed the contract with the business group to take action against the organisation and demand that they remove the toll-booth. I further urge the National Assembly to take action against this company and create laws against road fees during a time when most Cambodians are living in poverty and cannot afford such fees. 

I look forward to your intervention into this matter.

Yours faithfully,


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PLEASE SEND YOU LETTERS TO:

1. Mr. Sun Chanthol
Minister of Public Works and Transport
Ministry of Public Works and Transport
# No 106, Norodom Blvd.,
Phnom Penh
CAMBODIA
Tel: +855 23 427862
Fax: _855 23 427862
Email: mpwt@mpwt.gov.kh 

2. Mr. Ang Vong Vathna
Minster of Justice
No 240, Sothearos Blvd.
Phnom Penh,
CAMBODIA
Fax: + 855 23 36 4119/21 66 22

2. Mr. Henro Raken
Prosecutor General
Court of Appeal
No. 14, Boulevard Sothearos
Phnom Penh
CAMBODIA
Tel: +855 23 21 84 60

3. Mr. Kham Pheurn
Kratie Provincial governor
Beoung Kalou Village
Kratie commune, Kratie district
Kratie province
CAMBODIA
Tel: +855- 12 923 937
Fax: +855- 72 971 416

4. Mr. Choung Seang Hak
Police commissionner
Beoung Kalou Village
Kratie commune, Kratie district
Kratie province
CAMBODIA
Tel: +855- 12 885 838
Fax: +855- 72 971 444

5. Mr. Chan Sarun
Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries
N° 200, Norodom
12301 Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Tel: +855 23 211 351-2
Tel: +855 23 215 321
Tel/fax : +855 23 211 411
Fax : +855 23 217 320
E-Mail: maff@everyday.com.kh 

6. Ms Margo Picken
Director
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Cambodia
N 10, Street 302
Sangkat Boeng Keng
Kang I Khan Chamcar Mon
Phnom Penh,
CAMBODIA
Tel: +855-23-987 671 / 987 672, 993 590 /993 591 or +85523 216 342
Fax: +855-23-212 579, 213 587

7. Prof. Yash Ghai
Special Representative of the Secretary-General for human rights in Cambodia
Attn: Ms. Afarin Shahidzadeh
Room 3-080, OHCHR-UNOG
8-14 Avenue de la Paix1211
Geneva 10,
SWITZERLAND
Tel: +41 22 91 79214
Fax: +4122 91 79018 (ATTENTION: SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE CAMBODIA)


Thank you.

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


Document Type :
Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID :
UA-102-2007
Countries :
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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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