Every year, millions of people around the world are forcibly displaced from their lands, homes and livelihoods to make way for large-scale development projects. Most often those who are forced to sacrifice their place on earth for both public and private interests are amongst the poorest and most vulnerable people in society. They are thus the least equipped to cope with the challenges of physical, economic and social displacement and are as a result thrust into even deeper poverty and social exclusion. In the past two decades, development institutions that finance many of these projects, and many developing country governments, have stepped up their efforts to mitigate the risks of harmful impacts of development projects on displaced populations through safeguard policies, legal and regulatory frameworks and institutional capacity building to ensure better resettlement practices. Despite these efforts, however, the worldwide resettlement record remains a shameful one of insufficient financing, poor planning and inadequate implementation, and so these projects generally end up turning into what Oliver-Smith aptly describes as “development disasters.”i As Michael Cernea, the author of the World Bank’s first involuntary resettlement policy, summed up:  “The outcomes of most development-caused forced displacement and resettlement (DFDR) leave a disgracing stain on development itself, conflicting with its poverty reduction rationale, objective and ethic.”ii

Yet, resettlement does not need to lead to development disasters. While the overall record is poor, there are success stories. Some of the most oft-cited examples of successful resettlement have been in China, including the Dalian Water Supply Project, the Yunnan Expressway Project and the Shuikou Hydropower Project. Even in Cambodia, which shares the poor track record of many other countries on forced evictions and development-induced  displacement, there have been success stories. Notably, the Akphiwat Meanchey resettlement, conducted between 1997-2000, is widely recognized as a positive example of resettlement that resulted in generally improved living standards and security of tenure among the resettled population. In these success stories, resettlement was based on meaningful consultation with the affected people on genuine resettlement options. Moreover, planners and implementing agencies treated the resettlement as a development opportunity to improve the lives of the affected communities. Indeed, when resettlement for public development projects is unavoidable, it should be seen as an opportunity to directly lift affected people out of poverty and ensure that they are among the prime beneficiaries of the development. This is a goal well aligned with Cambodia’s National Strategic Development Plan.

In the case of the development project that is the subject of this report – the rehabilitation of Cambodia’s railway – this objective is particularly pertinent since the project is being financed by two institutions whose central missions are poverty alleviation: the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID). The importance of recognizing the risks of involuntary resettlement, and avoiding, minimizing and mitigating these risks so that they do not evolve into development disasters, is at the heart of the ADB’s Involuntary Resettlement Safeguard Policy. It is also reflected in international law obligations to ensure that the human rights of people affected by development-induced displacement are fully respected. These obligations became binding upon the governments of Cambodia, Australia, and many of ADB’s other shareholders, upon their ratification of international human rights law covenants.

This report presents the findings of research conducted by Bridges Across Borders Cambodia (BABC), over a period of approximately 20 months throughout the country, on the resettlement process and impacts of the Rehabilitation of the Cambodian Railways Project. It also assesses compliance with the applicable policy and legal instruments, including relevant provisions of international human rights law covenants, Cambodian law and the ADB Policy on InvoluntaryResettlement. The legal and policy obligations are described in Chapter 1 and at the beginning of each subsequent chapter.

In Chapters 2 to 6, the report presents the research findings in relation to various aspects of the resettlement process and assesses compliance with policy and legal obligations in relation to each aspect. Chapter 2 examines the experience of Project-affected people in accessing relevant information and participating in consultations about the Project, the resettlement process and their entitlements. Chapter 3 explores the process of assessing, offering and providing households compensation for demolishing their homes and other losses, and the sufficiency of the amount of compensation received by households as compared to the cost of constructing a basic adequate house in Cambodia. Chapter 4 looks at the selection of resettlement sites, and their appropriateness and adequacy in terms of tenure security, proximity to livelihood opportunities and basic facilities, and the provision of services. It also explores the experiences of affected households in reconstructing their homes at resettlement sites. Chapter 5 examines the impacts of resettlement on livelihoods and income, as well as debt burdens and the quality of Project-sponsored income restoration programs. Lastly, Chapter 6 investigates the Project’s local grievance mechanism and the ability of affected households to attain solutions for resettlement-related concerns and to access remedies for harms suffered.

It should be noted that BABC, along with other NGOs that have been monitoring the Railways Project, have brought information and concerns about the resettlement process to the Project implementers and financiers though extensive written correspondence and meetings over the period in which the research for this report was conducted. As a result, efforts have been made by these parties to correct some of the problems that have resulted from the resettlement process. This report does not seek to document the ongoing exchange between NGOs and these parties.

The purpose of this report is to place the research findings in the public arena, in the spirit of rectifying the harms experienced by Railways Project-affected households and improving resettlement processes both for this Project and for future projects that require land acquisition and resettlement. The report includes a number of specific recommendations toward these ends.

Finally, it is hoped that this report will contribute to a better understanding of why resettlement should always be a last resort and, if absolutely necessary, implemented in a way that respects human rights and ensures that harm does not befall the very people who are most in need of development benefits and least equipped to shoulder its costs.

Download the full report here:


Share This