Boeung Kak is the largest natural lake in Phnom Penh, and one of the last green areas of the capital. The lakeside is home to an estimated 4,250 families and a source of income for farmers who cultivate water vegetables on the lake. The water body plays a fundamental role in the city’s drainage system, serving as a catchment for floodwaters from surrounding neighborhoods
In late January 2007 the Phnom Penh Municipality agreed to lease Boeung Kak and the surrounding land for 99 years to CPP senator Lao Meng Khin’s Shukaku company. More than one year later in August 2008 the land was transferred from State public to State private property, that same month the developer began to pump sand from the Mekong into the lake, the consequences of dredging such a vital part of Phnom Penh’s eco system are still unknown.
By 2012 the developer, Shukaku Inc, has filled all of the lake with sand to make way for an exclusive residential and commercial development project.
Lakeside residents have been offered three compensation options:
– USD $8,500
– Housing at Damnak Troyeung relocation site (more than 20 kilometers outside of the citycentre).
– Onsite housing that required residents to move to Trapeang Anchanh relocation site (20 kilometers outside the city) for four years while permanent replacement housing is constructed in the Boeung Kak area.
None of the compensation offers meet the obligations of international laws regarding evictions and have been roundly condemned by civil society and deemed inadequate by those facing eviction. Yet by July 2012, it is estimated more than 3000 families around the lake have been displaced.
In August 2011, after years of protests by Boeung Kak residents, the government set aside 12.44-hectare for on-site upgrading for roughly 800 families. Met as a landmark victory by residents it did not mean the end of their struggle as still more than 90 families were excluded from this deal.
By mid-2012 residents are continuing to protest the exclusion of families from the 12.44 sub decree.
Amnesty International has called the eviction of Boeung Kak residents the largest forced eviction since the Khmer Rouge emptied Phnom Penh in 1975.
On the 22nd of May 2012, 13 women from Boeung Kak were arrested during a demonstration.
They had gathered to support families who had been evicted more than two years ago without any compensation. The land was sold to Sukaku Inc. a company owned by the Cambodian People’s Party Senator Lao Meng Keng, a man who personally holds more than 7.5% of the country’s land mass in Economic Land Concessions, and a personal friend of the Prime Minister Hun Sen. They had gathered to protest the unlawful eviction that had cost them their homes and their livelihoods, and had left them without compensation.
During the protest the police force, which largely outnumbered the demonstrators targeted 13 women and arrested them. The women were held at a police station for two days, unsure on what charges they had been arrested. The court hearing on the 23rd of May lasted for three hours and took place without witnesses or a lawyer present. They were convicted of trespassing and for disputing authority and sentenced to two and a half years in prison.
The women spent one month and three days in Prey Sar prison south of Phnom Penh. Residents of Boeung Kak held numerous protests, petitioned embassies and called for help from foreign donor countries to put pressure on the court to quash the sentences. After mounting international pressure the court of appeal reduced the sentences and released the 13 but their convictions still stand, and should they commit an act deemed to violate their probation they will be sent back to prison. In a country were the rule of law and the mechanics of the judiciary have little to do with justice the women remain on thin ice.
Yet their struggle persists, still seeking the land titles owed to them and the official demarcation of the 12.44 hectares for on-site upgrading they were awarded by the PM Hun Sen in August 2011. Importantly they are advocating for the release of fellow activist Yem Bopha who was arrested in Sept 2012 and charged with intentional violence, after more than 100 days of pre-trail detention her trail was set for the 26th of Dec. 2012, the verdict came through the next morning and she was convicted of intentional violence with aggravated circumstances. She now faces 3 years in prison and a fine of 30,000,000 riel (~US$ 7,500).