Mar 27, 2019 by members

Cambodian Indigenous Communities Win Back Their Sacred Lands from Vietnamese Agribusiness Giant


Twelve indigenous communities in Cambodia’s northeastern province of Ratanakiri scored a major victory against Vietnamese agribusiness giant Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) when the government announced that it will return sacred and spiritually significant areas that had been grabbed from these communities in a bid to develop large-scale rubber plantations. The communities have been in decade-long land conflict with HAGL since their ancestral lands were granted to the company by the government.

Coalition members Equitable Cambodia and Inclusive Development International (IDI) and two others Cambodian and indigenous peoples’ organizations, the Highlanders Association and Indigenous Rights Active Members, represented the indigenous communities in the complaint filed with the Office of the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO), the independent watchdog of the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation in 2014. The government’s decision to return community land was a result of the CAO dispute resolution process.

“We are very happy for our ancestors that we are getting back our sacred lands,” said Sev Seun, a community representative from Kak village.  “But our struggle will not end until the company restores the forests and streams that it destroyed and compensates our communities for all that we have suffered.”

“The IFC must finally be held accountable for the role it has played in the human rights and environmental disaster that has unfolded in Ratanakiri over the past decade,” said David Pred, Executive Director of Inclusive Development International.  “This complaint is fundamentally about the IFC’s reckless investments in commercial banks and private equity funds that refuse to respect its environmental and social requirements, and its systematic failure to conduct oversight over what these institutions do with our public money.”

Despite this win, the communities have filed a new complaint with the CAO last week, citing new financial ties between IFC and the company. The communities lodged the second complaint because HAGL unilaterally pulled out of the CAO mediation process before reaching a final agreement with them on issues of land and water rehabilitation and compensation for damages. The communities are calling on HAGL to return to the negotiating table to resolve these issues.

“HAGL must respect its past commitments to the affected communities and resolve their outstanding grievances,” said Eang Vuthy, Executive Director of Equitable Cambodia.  “The problem won’t end until HAGL repairs all the damage it caused, so we hope that IFC’s clients will encourage them to come back to the mediation table.”

For more information, read here.