PR – Human Rights Concerns Over Hydropower Development in Cambodia Brought to the UN

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


A boat transports goods on the Sesan River in Cambodia
A boat transports goods on the Sesan River in Cambodia
International Rivers

Phnom Penh, Cambodia: International and Cambodian groups today issued a complaint to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia raising concerns over human rights violations resulting from the development of two hydropower dam projects in Cambodia. The complaint highlights the Lower Sesan 2 Dam, currently under construction in Stung Treng Province, and the Stung Cheay Areng Dam in Koh Kong Province, which is reportedly close to approval. The complaint calls on the Special Rapporteur to investigate and seek remedial action for existing and imminent breaches of human rights in relation to these projects. 

Recent asset surveys by the project developers of the Lower Sesan 2 (LS2) Dam have raised concerns over villagers being pressured and intimidated into agreeing with the surveys and the proposed resettlement plans, which will relocate around 5,000 people. 

“Thousands of people’s lives will be devastated and destroyed by this project. Despite its severe impacts, there has been no transparency in the decision-making and no real consultation with the communities in order for them to express their concerns,” said Meach Mean, Coordinator of the 3S Rivers Protection Network (3SPN), a grassroots organisation which works with the affected communities. “As many of the people who will be impacted by this dam are indigenous, their consent should have been a prerequisite before the government chose to proceed with LS2.”

In the complaint, concerns are also raised over the severe environmental impacts the LS2 Dam is predicted to cause in Cambodia and the region. The Dam will reduce fish biomass by 9.3% across the entire Mekong River Basin and the Tonle Sap Lake and critically endanger more than 50 fish species. In addition, substantial changes to water and sediment flows in the Mekong River and its tributaries will harm fishery and agriculture based livelihoods, extending as far downstream as the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. 

“The LS2 project will jeopardise the food security of hundreds of thousands of people in Cambodia and neighbouring countries”, said Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia Program Director at International Rivers. “Inland fisheries form a primary source of essential dietary protein and the impacts of fishery losses on health and nutrition are likely to be widespread and severe which will undermine development efforts in the region.  As this is one of the worst dams in the region and affected people’s human rights are not being respected, it’s clear that this dam needs to be further investigated and should be cancelled.” 

If it proceeds, the Stung Cheay Areng Dam will displace approximately 1500 indigenous inhabitants of the Areng Valley, who have called the area home for over 600 years, destroying their traditions and culture. The project is also expected to have a low electricity output with extremely high environmental costs, wreaking havoc on unique ecosystems and rare and critically endangered wildlife within the pristine valley, which is surrounded by protected forest within the Cardamom Mountains. 

“The Areng communities do not support this project”, said Lyneth Sar, a legal assistant with Samreth Law Group. “They have not received any information or opportunity for dialogue from the government or the developing companies. As indigenous people they are entitled to free, prior and informed consent under international law and they have been actively defending their rights through peaceful demonstrations.”     

The Cambodian government is in the process of scaling up hydropower development in the country, with a number of large dam projects already complete and numerous other projects proposed. While hydropower dams can bring economic and other benefits, they also carry significant risks. 

“Cambodia currently lacks an adequate legal framework for the development of large-scale hydropower projects,” said Maureen Harris, Legal Advisor to EarthRights International. “In particular, this includes the social and environmental safeguards that are essential to protect against potentially devastating impacts on the environment and human rights. The Cambodian government and project developers must ensure such safeguards are in place and adhered to before making decisions or proceeding with these risky and potentially damaging projects. We hope this complaint to the UN will result in the Cambodian government taking proactive steps towards ensuring that only sustainable dam projects that respect the human rights of affected people are built.”

  • Read the full complaint here.

Read the press release in Khmer.

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