World Bank helps to destroy indigenous rights in Cambodia

World Bank helps to destroy indigenous rights in Cambodia

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August 31, 2008

Ethnicity and Local Governance Cambodia (ELGC), a research project that analyzes state-minority relations in Cambodia, has published a report on the World Bank’s involvement and complicity in the destruction of Indigenous Peoples rights in Cambodia.

Titled, “Money Now, Compliance Later: Worldbank-Support to Decentralization in Cambodia and Indigenous Peoples,” the detailed report reveals a series of “blunders” involving the Worldbank-support Rural Investment and Local Governance Project (RILGP) in Cambodia.

One such blunder is the RILGP policy toward the negative impacts of development and the projects that have been requested by indigenous peoples.

“[A] Screening Study in 2002 included an assessment of the types of projects and activities most urgently needed by indigenous peoples,” the ELGC report explains. “42 indigenous discussion groups were asked to list the top 5 indigenous priority needs. Here is the result of the Bank-commissioned assessment (number in brackets indicates number of discussion groups who ranked the particular need among the top 5 priorities):

  1. Health related projects (40 out of 42)
  2. Education-related projects (30 of 42 groups)
  3. Road infrastructure (16 of 42 groups)
  4. Wells (‘very common request’)
  5. Water storage and irrigation (‘common request’)
  6. Agricultural extension projects (‘common’)
  7. Livestock projects (‘very common’) (Screening Study: pp.136).

“Significant negative socioeconomic impacts were identified only for one type of project, road infrastructure, a need prioritized by only a minority of groups, as follows:

“The discussion groups did identify potential negative impacts associated with road projects. These potential negative impacts can be listed as follows:

  • That some bad and clever outsiders may come after the road is built and exploit the assets of the village.
  • That outsiders may come and take their land.
  • That the road may lead to their forests being destroyed or degraded by (sometimes armed) outsiders and it will then be difficult to find forest food and forest products to sell.

Possible land appropriation and deforestation following road construction is a major potential negative socioeconomic impact. There are cases where such negative impacts, particularly in terms of deforestation, have occurred following road construction in forest dependent communities … . Many forest areas have already been degraded in areas with poor road infrastructure. However, improved roads can accelerate that process and open new areas for exploitation by a larger number of logging interests” (Screening Study: 136).

The ELGC goes on to say these negative impacts clearly hold a potential to cause great damage to indigenous societies.

The Screening Study offers series of recommendations on how the RILGP can mitigate or prevent these damages.

The RILGP, however, refuses to incorporate the recommendations, choosing instead to deny that there are even any problems. “The small-scale activities chosen by villagers and funded through RILGP will not affect land tenure or otherwise cause any direct adverse impacts,” they state.

It’s doubly absurd since just a few paragraphs later, they say that “prior assessment of the appropriateness and impacts… is impossible” because the “RILGP would empower local communities to determine their own development priorities.”

In other words, by their own logic, it is impossible to determine whether or not there are any adverse impacts. That is, unless there are some adverse impacts, in which case there really aren’t any.

The ELGC goes on to list a number of similar contradictory, as well as fraudulent and exclusionary policies maintained by the RILGP.

Overall, they are policies that threaten to disintegrate the cultures of Indigenous People in Cambodia, and that help to remove them from having control over their own lives and rights to their lands and resources.

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