Australian aid funding tangled up in human rights violations in Cambodia

A project to upgrade and connect Cambodia’s debilitated railways – which received $26 million of funding from AusAID – has caused significant harm to many of the 4000 families it is displacing. The Human Rights Law Centre has assisted a Cambodian NGO, Equitable Cambodia, and the New York-based, Inclusive Development International to submit a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Inclusive Development International’s Legal Associate, Natalie Bugalski, said the human rights violations were foreseeable and could have been avoided with better planning and stronger safeguards.

“While the Government of Cambodia bears the primary responsibility to ensure respect for the human rights of project-affected people, AusAID is also partly liable for the human rights violations suffered. By providing significant financing to the railway rehabilitation, AusAID became obliged to take measures to ensure, to the best of its ability, that the human rights of those to be affected would be respected,” Ms Bugalski said.

The complaint details how resettlement packages provided were not sufficient to ensure that people have access to adequate housing and can meet other basic needs.

Eang Vuthy of Equitable Cambodia, which has been monitoring the impact of the railway resettlement process since 2010, said resettlement should have been used as a chance to improve the circumstances of the affected people.

“They should be active participants in the project and it should make their lives better off. They certainly shouldn’t drag people into poverty and exploitation,” Mr Vuthy said.

Director of Advocacy and Campaigns, Rachel Ball, said the Human Rights Law Centre is calling on the Australian Government to adopt a human rights based approach to international development.

“Incorporating human rights into the development and delivery of aid programs is central to aid effectiveness and can prevent large scale violations such as those associated with the railways project,” Ms Ball said.

A copy of the complaint can be found here.