Image Credits: ANI
A report by Human Rights Watch has revealed that Cambodia's indigenous and ethnic minority communities were ignored during a dam project completed by a Chinese electricity firm and bankrolled by the Chinese and Cambodian governments. The authorities of both countries completely ignored 'community concerns' in the construction of the Lower Sesan II dam in Treng Province of northeastern Cambodia, said the report titled 'Underwater: Human Rights Impacts of a China Belt and Road Project in Cambodia.'
According to a media report, Lower Sesan II was completed in 2018 by the operator, China Huaneng, at the cost of $782 million, with Chinese government banks providing most of the financing. In contrast, Cambodia's Royal Group and Vietnam's state-owned electricity company EVN hold minor stakes.
Speaking on the matter, John Sifton, Human Rights Watch Asia advocacy director, said, "The Lower Sesan II dam washed away the livelihoods of Indigenous and ethnic minority communities who previously lived communally and mostly self-sufficiently from fishing, forest-gathering and agriculture." He said that these indigenous and ethnic minority communities include Bunong, Brao, Kuoy, Lao, Jarai, Kreung, Kavet, Tampuan, and Kachok ethnic groups. "These people were forced to accept inadequate compensation for their lost property and income and were provided with poor housing and services at resettlement sites," Sifton added, who also authored the report.
The report also said that the construction of this dam had caused economic, social and cultural rights violations, which has displaced nearly 5,000 people in the region, and tens of thousands of villagers living upstream and downstream have suffered steep losses to their incomes. Fisheries experts had also warned that damming the confluence of the Sesan and Srepok rivers – two major tributaries of the resource-rich Mekong river – would hamper fish stocks crucial to millions living along the Mekong's flood plains. It is pertinent to mention here that the report is based on academic studies, business records and research by NGOs and other sources; besides, it also includes interviews with more than 60 community members, civil society leaders, academics, scientists and others who researched the project.