European and Asian leaders attending the ninth Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM 9) in Vientiane, Laos next week will stay in luxury villas built on land taken from local communities.
Between 2010 and 2011, the 500 residents of Don Chan Island in central Vientiane were forced off their land to make way for accommodation for delegates such as William Hague and François Hollande. The community, most of whom are small-scale farmers, were forced to leave their homes and move 26km outside of capital onto infertile land. They were not sufficiently consulted prior to being resettled, in breach of Lao law. Many of the community are now struggling to survive, having received inadequate and unequal compensation from the government.
The community is too scared to speak out following threats from authorities. However, one villager said anonymously “I cannot produce rice and others crops for survival, how can my family and I live? Other people have the same problems as well.”
Patrick Alley, Director of Global Witness said, “It’s pretty shocking that EU leaders will be sleeping on a land grab, but sadly not surprising when you look at what is happening across the region. Laos is in the midst of a land grabbing crisis which has seen 3.6 million hectares of land handed out to investors. 18% of the villages in Laos have been affected by at least one land grab, pushing thousands of people off their land and into poverty. European leaders need to tackle this issue, not least as it undermines their aid programmes over the entire Mekong region.”
State-sponsored land grabs are also a huge problem in neighbouring Cambodia, with 400,000 Cambodians affected by the problem since 2003. Just two weeks after ASEM 9, world leaders including President Obama will arrive in Phnom Penh for the US-ASEAN and East Asia Summits (18-21 November). Hundreds of families are facing eviction from their land so that the airport can be expanded for delegates, and reportedly have not been consulted or promised any compensation for losing their homes. When told of the evictions, the US Embassy said "these are Cambodian government actions they are taking. It's not just President Obama coming."
The governments of Cambodia and Laos are increasingly using repression to silence anyone who speaks out. In June, seven people were arrested and detained in Southern Laos after opposing a land concession given to a rubber company. Harassment and violence against activists and journalists defending Cambodia’s land and forests have escalated dramatically of late, with several killings and a sharp increase in arrests in 2012.
On 26th October 2012, European MPs passed a parliamentary resolution expressing concern about escalating land grabbing and rights violations in Cambodia and urging the government to “cease all forced land evictions until a transparent and accountable framework guaranteeing adequate compensation and suitable alternative accommodation is in place”. European leaders travelling to Laos and Cambodia must display the same resolve.
“The situations in Cambodia and Laos feel very similar – you have land being doled out in secret deals between investors and governments who use repression to make sure no one protests,” said Patrick Alley. “World leaders have stayed quiet on this issue for far too long, but staying on land that has been grabbed from a local community is surely one step too far. They must condemn the Don Chan land heist and encourage the Lao and Cambodian governments to end this cycle of state-looting and repression.”
- For interviews, anonymous quotes from communities and images of Don Chan before and after the land grab, please contact Oliver Courtney on [email protected], +44 (0)7912 517147.
- Further information on the EU MEP resolution is P7_TA-PROV(2012)0402 Situation in Cambodia (B7-0478/2012),(B7-0483/2012),(B7-0486/2012),(B7-0488/2012),(B7-0491/2012) and (B7-0494/2012) European Parliament resolution of 26 October 2012 on the situation in Cambodia (2012/2844(RSP)): http://bit.ly/SAtWAb