Thursday, June 26, 2014

On Thursdays We Protest

Today, I attended a protest for my work.  Technically, we were there to as Human Rights Monitors.  A little bit of background: I am a legal intern for Equitable Cambodia in the Development Watch program. DW currently has 4 main cases that we are working on, all of them involve forced evictions, unfair compensation, and inadequate resettlements that have resulted in increased poverty and indebtedness in comparison to their pre-eviction status.  The four cases are The Railway Rehabilitation Project, The Airport Expansion Project, Rubber Plantations, and Sugar Plantations.  The former two also involve illegal land-grabbing.  Cambodians tend to protest, for various reasons of course, but it is not an uncommon thing.  Today, the protesters were the communities affected by the Railway Rehabilitation Project.  Basically, there are 2 major railways in Cambodia. However, they have been in disrepair and not in use since the Khmer Rouge was in power.  The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and AusAid are funding its rehabilitation, which requires all of the communities living along the railways to be evicted. The ADB has policies for these sorts of things in order to ensure no human rights violations.  Without getting into too many details, the communites are unhappy with the ADB because the current Remedial Action Plan is inadequate and they were not consulted even though this effects them directly and were told they would be.  (Obviously, the situation is a lot more complicated than this - I just don't want to try to explain the whole situation).  So, today's protest was to get the attention of the ADB and force them to listen to the communities and follow their own policies.

People brought their children to bring attention to the fact that they are not the only ones affected by these forced evictions and re settlements, often it means less food in their children's bellies and the inability to attend school anymore.

(ADB Cambodia Resident Mission)

(Reinforcements just chillin in a truck)

Approaching Soldiers(?) in riot gear

And them passing us to go sit in the shade of a monument just beyond us.

At one point 7 community reps and the DW Project Manager were invited into the ADB building and were able to have a meeting with them.  Even though there was a lot of police, there was no violence and the atmosphere was generally relaxed between the protesters and the police.  One of the reasons there was such a big police presence was probably because the ADB is extremely close to the Prime Ministers house (More like 2 ginormous buildings).

While this protest was nothing like those i witnessed and participated in along side my fellow banana slugs in undergrad, it was a super cool experience and gave me some hope that even though I will be on the legal side of human rights I still get to attend the fun stuff.