Press Release / Dec. 21, 2001

At long last Cambodia suspends all logging operations

Faced with mounting domestic and international criticism relating to the destruction of Cambodia’s forests, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has announced the suspension of all logging operations, effective from 1st January 2002. Global Witness, the UK based environmental and human rights organisation which has been campaigning against illegal logging in Cambodia since 1995, applauds the decision and seeks reassurances that companies that have committed extensive illegal logging will not be allowed to resume activities.

Global Witness has been calling for suspension and cancellation of concessions since 1996, when mounting evidence showed that such companies were responsible for the destruction of the country’s forests: its only significant economic resource. “Foreign logging companies have been plundering Cambodia for years, with the collusion of corrupt officials and politicians, and at the expense of the country and its people. They perform a charade of negotiation whilst at the same time logging as fast as they can,” said Rosie Sharpe of Global Witness. Even the usually conservative Asian Development Bank described the Cambodian forestry sector as a “total system failure" in a 1999 report, and demanded that concessions should face termination unless they radically reformed, including the production of social and environmental impact assessments and long-term forest management plans, by 30th September 2001. None of the concessionaires achieved this deadline or achieved the required standards.

“Illegal logging has been steadily increasing since late 1999 with the majority of cases being committed by the legal concessionaires,” said Sharpe. Since 1999, Global Witness has been working with the government as the independent monitor of the forestry sector and has reported cases of illegal activity on all of the concessionaires.

In order for this suspension to be meaningful, it is imperative that logging companies that have committed serious contractual breach, particularly with regard to illegal logging, should not be allowed to resume activities. All 17 concessionaires fall under this heading. The country would be much better off without them as shown by the fact that the flooding that the country experienced in 2000 was the worst in 70 years. The UN blamed it on deforestation, and it is estimated that it cost the country US$156 million. This compares to the total of US$92 million which was generated by the forestry sector between 1994 and 2000.