From the Inter Press Service, writer Irwin Loy decribes how a World Bank fact finding mission uncovered how their negligence resulted in the forced evictions.
"The claims of the Boeung Kak lake community are serious," Roberto Lenton, the chair of the panel, said in a statement. "The issues raised involve fundamental questions of their land rights and tenure security… the panel found that the evictions took place in violation of the bank policy on involuntary resettlement and resulted in grave harm to the affected families and community."
In a series of reports and statements the inspection panel ruled that a controversial bank-funded land-titling project failed to protect some 4,000 families living around Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak lake - a low-income community that had grown in the centre of the capital following the collapse of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime.
In doing so, the bank broke many of its own regulations meant to ensure its programmes would not cause inadvertent harm to local populations.
Many people in this Southeast Asian country still lack basic legal titles to their land, a legacy of the Khmer Rouge, who outlawed private ownership. The bank funded the Land Management and Administration Project, or LMAP, as part of a plan to address Cambodia’s lingering land problems.
LMAP has courted controversy by following the government’s policy to not issue land titles to some 4,000 families around Boeung Kak lake. The government declared the land to be owned by the state, even though many of the residents had lived there for years.
The government later leased the land to a developer. The Chinese-backed developer and local authorities have since told the residents that they must move to make way for a series of office towers and villas on the 133-hectare site.
The World Bank inspection panel ruled that the bank should have followed its safeguards - agreed to by the bank, donor governments and Cambodian authorities at the inception of the project - which would have allowed the residents to argue their cases for land titles. Instead bank management ignored the residents’ claims until it was too late.
"The harm the people have suffered as a result of the evictions and the following displacement… was evident to the panel team," the panel stated in its investigation report. "The panel found no record that bank management raised this issue with the government or project staff until 2009, when the situation had already deteriorated beyond repair."