Press Release / April 22, 2003

Cambodian government terminates independent forest monitoring

Cambodian Government Terminates Independent Forest Monitoring

The Cambodian Government has, with effect from today, terminated Global Witness’ [1] role as the official Independent Monitor of the forest sector in Cambodia [2]. With no independent monitoring mechanism in place, the Government is now in breach of World Bank conditions for further disbursements of the Bank’s US$ 30 million Structural Adjustment Credit (SAC) to Cambodia.

“The decision to dispense with independent monitoring leaves the Government, the international donor community and, most importantly, the public without any credible source of information regarding illegal logging in Cambodia,” said Jon Buckrell of Global Witness.

Chan Sarun, the Cambodian Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries wrote in a letter to Global Witness on 22 January that the organisation’s role as official independent monitor would be terminated in three months. Neither the Minister nor any other Government official has communicated with Global Witness since this letter. The Minister’s letter followed threats of expulsion and legal action by the Government, after Global Witness reported on police violence against peaceful demonstrators on 5 December 2002. In March the Government filed a criminal complaint against Global Witness’s Cambodia Co-ordinator on baseless charges relating to this incident. The complaint was only withdrawn after intense pressure from international donor countries.

“Global Witness' most vocal critics tend to be the same individuals who organise and profit most from illegal logging. These individuals at the heart of government and the public administration no doubt see the termination of Global Witness' official role as the surest way to maintain their illicit revenue streams and thereby their power,” said Buckrell.

Meanwhile the Cambodian government seeks to convince international donors that it is managing its forests responsibly. It cites the existence of an independent monitor as the basis for this claim, while simultaneously doing whatever it can to prevent the monitor from actually operating.

“Any credible organisation the Cambodian Government might recruit to replace Global Witness as independent monitor will face the same persistent obstruction which we have encountered,” said Buckrell. “The price for doing this job effectively is at best non-co-operation and at worst outright intimidation.”

The Government’s termination of independent monitoring comes amidst continued illegal logging in Cambodia. In recent weeks, Global Witness investigators have documented logging in forest concessions, in defiance of the Government’s 2002 moratorium on cutting in these areas, and also in protected areas. The response of the Head of the Government’s Department of Forestry and Wildlife to these Global Witness reports has been to comment that “There is no illegal logging that we should worry about”.

Notes to editors:

[1] Global Witness is a London based non-governmental organisation that focuses on the role that natural resources play in funding conflict and facilitating corruption. It alerted the world to the issue of conflict diamonds in 1998 and has since campaigned for controls to counter the problem. Its other campaigns have included successfully cutting off funding to the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia by exposing their multi million dollar illegal trade in timber; working to increase fiscal transparency in the oil trade due its negative impact on regional development and campaigning for targeted timber sanctions against the Liberian logging industry for funding regional conflict and instability.

[2] Global Witness began working as official independent monitor of forestry in Cambodia in 1999 as part of an international donor-funded Forest Crimes Monitoring and Reporting Project. This independent monitoring role formed one part of the Forest Crime Monitoring Unit, which was also made up of inspection teams from the Department of Forestry and Wildlife, who are responsible for monitoring forest crimes in production forest and the Ministry of Environment, who are responsible for monitoring forest crimes in protected areas. As independent monitor, Global Witness’ role was to monitor the performance of the above agencies.

Independent monitoring by Global Witness has, over the past three years, produced some very positive results, notably the cancellation of forest concessions held by companies which were logging illegally. Particularly significant, in this regard, was the cancellation in 2002 of the two concessions operated by the Malaysian company GAT.

Overall, however, the Forest Crimes Monitoring and Reporting Project did not achieve the expected results. The major problems were the lack of cooperation shown by the Department of Forestry and Wildlife to the Independent Monitor, together with the failure by the Department of Forestry and Wildlife to report any illegal activities by the concession companies. The vast majority of cases against concessionaires have been reported by Global Witness and again the follow-up by the Government has been disappointing.