CCHR Call to Review Dredging for Sand

Source: Khmer TimeKH | Wednesday, 07 September 2016, by May Titthara

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An aerial view of a platform where workers collect sand north of Phnom Penh. Supplied

The government should immediately place a moratorium on issuing new sand dredging licenses until an in-depth investigation into the long-term environmental impact has been conducted and revoke the licenses of companies found to be contravening their environmental impact assessments – or for not having one – the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) said yesterday.

According to a briefing note released by CCHR on the impact of sand dredging on the human rights of affected communities, the reliance on natural resources for food and livelihoods by more than three-quarters of the population makes environmental protection a human rights issue.

“In its work with local communities throughout the country, [CCHR] has noted that the issue of environmental degradation and the negative impacts it has on communities’ human rights is arising with increasing frequency. [The government must] review all existing sand dredging licenses and take appropriate action where companies are found to be in violation of their license restriction,” the report says.

It details how dredging for sand for domestic construction projects and export from the country’s rivers and coastal areas has grown since it started about 10 years ago, especially as regional countries have placed bans or limits on their exports, primarily to sand-hungry Singapore.

The report cites an industry figure as estimating that Phnom Penh now requires 10,000 cubic meters of sand per day for its construction needs, which mostly comes from neighboring Kandal, Kampong Cham, Svay Rieng and Prey Veng provinces.

Dredging off Preah Sihanouk, Kep, Kampot and Koh Kong provinces is largely for export to Singapore.

“With the domestic construction boom and foreign consumption fuelling the demand, weak governance and rampant corruption are facilitating uninhibited and illegal mining of sand throughout Cambodia’s rivers, estuaries and coastal regions.”

The report highlights that Cambodia is not without legal protection for the environment, namely the Law on Environmental Protection and Natural Resource Management, and is developing more.

“Of particular relevance to Cambodia’s sand mining industry is Article 8, which explicitly states that Cambodia’s natural resources, including sand, shall be conserved, managed and used ‘in a rational and sustainable manner’.”

Despite this, the report is scathing of the negative social and environmental impacts of the industry, and the lack of government oversight and control.

“In reality the unsustainable extraction and exploitation of Cambodia’s sand provides little to no benefit to Cambodians: local communities do not enjoy economic benefits as jobs are invariably given to migrants from other areas of the country or overseas; the profits of the operations are enjoyed by a small number of large corporations; and finally, much of the sand is used for export and there is no publicly available information on the amount of royalties or license fees received by the [government].

“Yet despite such concerns and continued reports of contraventions of the law in relation to sand dredging, the [government] continues to issue companies with licenses to operate sand dredging activities throughout the country.”

Mother Nature, an environmental NGO based in Koh Kong province, has taken an often controversial stance against dredging. In July three of its members received 18-month suspended sentences after being accused of threatening to destroy a sand barge.

Mother Nature’s deported co-founder Alex Gonzales-Davidson branded the trial a farce.

CCHR’s report called for the rights of environmental activists to be respected.

“Immediately end intimidation and harassment of activists and take action to protect the rights of activists from corporate actors and other third parties,” it states.

Ven Vorn, an environmental activist linked with Mother Nature – who received a one-year suspended sentence earlier this year that he said was related to his environmental work – said yesterday that he supported the call to crack down on all illegal dredging and properly assess the impact on coasts and rivers.

“Because we want to protect the natural resources and campaign against the dredging of sand we are arrested and imprisoned without guilt. I still fight against sand dredging.”  While the report notes that the government and Prime Minister Hun Sen has at various times voiced concerns over the impact of sand dredging, and promised reviews and stricter licensing, little has changed.

“While a fairly comprehensive legal framework for the protection of the environment exists in Cambodia, in practice sand dredging companies have been able to circumvent such regulations and as such, sand dredging has had detrimental impacts on both the environment and on human rights,” the report states.

Dith Tina, a spokesman and secretary of state at the Ministry of Mines and Energy could not be reached for comment.

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