On 20 June the Cambodian government's former Independent Forest Monitor Société Générale de Surveillance (SGS) issued a public response to Global Witness' latest report on high-level corruption and illegal logging in Cambodia: Cambodia's Family Trees. The report exposes a massive illegal logging racket, run by the Seng Keang Company, which took place on SGS' watch. Seng Keang Company is controlled by relatives of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and other senior officials. The Global Witness report also presents evidence of corruption by senior officials and the smuggling activities of elite military units controlled by Hun Sen.
It appears that whoever drafted the SGS response has either not read Cambodia's Family Trees or has not understood the points that it makes. Global Witness stands by all the assertions made in its report and wishes to correct the misleading statements made by SGS:
- Regarding SGS' failure to report the industrial-scale illegal logging operation around the Tumring Rubber Plantation, which generated around US$13 million per year for the Seng Keang Company, SGS stated that: "during the period of SGS operations, the area in Tumring was not a gazetted forest but a private rubber plantation and so the activities there did not constitute a forest crime". This misses the point completely. The Global Witness report reveals how the Seng Keang Company used the rubber plantation to launder vast quantities of timber cut illegally in the surrounding forest at enormous environmental and social cost to the local population. At the height of this activity, SGS had a member of staff posted in Tumring, but never reported what was happening. The company has yet to explain this extraordinary omission.
- Cambodia's Family Trees describes how an SGS staff member was present when the Seng Keang Company representative in Tumring, Seng Kok Heang, attempted to shoot a community forest activist in the local Forest Administration building. During the Seng Keang Company's operation in Tumring, Seng Kok Heang and his cohorts illegally logged thousands of resin trees belonging to local residents, seriously damaging their livelihoods. The victim of the attack by Seng Kok Heang was leading a collective attempt by villagers to stop these abuses. The shooting has been reported not only by Global Witness, but also by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The SGS response makes no reference to the attack on the community forest activist, however. Instead, it claims that the shooting was "a drunken incident", and "not a premeditated attack on the FA office". SGS presents no evidence for its claim that this was merely a "drunken incident". Moreover, had the drafter of the company's response read the Global Witness report more carefully, they would have noticed that the incident described was an attempt to murder an individual rather than an attack on a government office. The fact that SGS failed to report a very serious crime directly associated with illegal logging raises serious questions about the company's competence and integrity.
- The Global Witness report also exposed the criminal activities of the elite military unit Brigade 70, which runs an illegal service transporting timber and smuggled goods for Cambodia's major timber barons and prominent tycoons. In December 2003 SGS made an unsuccessful attempt to inspect the sawmill of Khai Narin, one of Brigade 70's key clients. In its response, SGS stated it could not insist on access to the mill because it had not yet received its mandate, adding "The mill has since been dismantled". As described in Cambodia's Family Trees, Global Witness surveillance of the sawmill in 2005 and, most recently in September 2006, revealed that it was intact and continuing to process illegally felled logs. Once again SGS, which ceased forest monitoring operations in early 2006, does not present any evidence to support its assertion.
For further information please call +44 7957 142 121 or +44 207 561 6396
Notes to Editors:
(1) Global Witness exposes the corrupt exploitation of natural resources and international trade systems, to drive campaigns that end impunity, resource-linked conflict, and human rights and environmental abuses. Global Witness was co-nominated for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for its leading work on ‘conflict diamonds' and awarded the Gleitsman Foundation prize for international activism in 2005.
(2) The report ‘Cambodia's Family Trees' can be downloaded here.
(3) Following on from its launch in June, the Cambodian government banned the report and confiscated copies, while Global Witness staff were publicly threatened by the Prime Minister's brother. References to this threat are drawn from an article by Douglas Gillison and Yun Samean, published in the Cambodia Daily on June 5 2007. In it, the Prime Minister's brother and Kompong Cham provincial governor Hun Neng is quoted as saying: "If they (Global Witness staff) come to Cambodia, I will hit them until their heads are broken."
(3) SGS is an inspection, verification, testing and certification company. Further information can be found on http://www.sgs.com.
(4) Global Witness was appointed the official independent monitor of Cambodia's forestry sector in 1999 and played this role until 2003. SGS took over the position of forest monitor from Global Witness. It held the position from late 2003 to early 2005.
(5) The Prey Long forest landscape in northern Cambodia is the largest contiguous area of dry evergreen and semi-evergreen forest left standing in mainland Southeast Asia. Situated to the west of the Mekong River, it covers an area of approximately 5250 km2. Prey Long's importance is highlighted in a number of studies of forest management in Cambodia, not least the 2006 World Bank Inspection Panel report (http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTINSPECTIONPANEL/Resources/CAMBODIAFINAL.pdf) and the 2004 Cambodia Independent Forest Sector Review (http://www.cambodia-forest-sector.net/docs/mainreport.pdf). It has been included in a tentative list of sites proposed for UNESCO World Heritage status. The Cambodian government is currently developing plans to clear tens of thousands of hectares of Prey Long to make way for plantations.