Far from the Asean ministerial meetings underway on Monday, victims of forced evictions in Cambodia say they need regional leaders to help enforce human rights.
At a squalid relocation camp at Phnom Bath mountain, where many displaced families live in poverty, Nhim Sopha, 29, told VOA Khmer she needs Asean’s leaders “to help solve the problems, so that I can have a plot of land.”
Nhim Sopha, who is a widow with one child, said she was forcibly evicted with around 300 families from the Phnom Penh neighborhood of Borei Keila earlier this year. They were brought by truck to this desolate mountain location, 50 kilometers from the city.
A piece of land, she said, “would be enough for me, and then I’ll demand nothing else.”
Rights advocates say the ongoing forced evictions of rural and urban Cambodians goes against the “spirit” of Asean. Cambodia is hosting an Asean summit in Phnom Penh, with the leaders of all 10 countries expected to meet on Tuesday.
The site at Phnom Bath lacks clean water, electricity, schools and health facilities. The displaced here say they are vulnerable to heavy winds and rainstorms, and they fear poisonous snakes and insects.
“I would like to ask all the ministers to help all the people here, whether they are inside or outside tents, who are in miserable conditions,” Sin Vanny, who is 70 years old and was among the Borei Keila evictees, told VOA Khmer.
Residents from the neighborhood have had little success in getting their complaints heard, despite protests in the city and requests for help from the administration of Prime Minister Hun Sen, Cambodia’s parliament and foreign embassies.
Sia Phearum, director of the Human Rights Task Force, a housing rights advocacy group, said Cambodia’s role as head of Asean should compel it to be a role model for other member nations.
“This seems like a small issue, so it is not necessary for other Asean nations to step in,” he said. “Doing so would embarrass Cambodia. So now the government should solve the problem for the people quickly, so that they won’t have to wait and won’t protest, because this won’t make a good image for Cambodia as chair of Asean.”
Some evictees believe Asean can do little for them.
Chay Kimhorn, 33, who was forced from Borei Keila but refused to move to the relocation site, said the government is not likely to bring up such issues at a regional forum.
“They’ll raise only the development of new buildings and so on,” she said. “I don’t think they know how miserably we are living these days, because we talk to all the media and they simply ignore us.”