Amnesty accuses UNESCO of favoring the displacement of the population from the site of Angkor

Angkor has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1992. TANG CHHIN SOTHY / AFP

In a report published on Tuesday, Amnesty International called UNESCO on the alarming situation of Angkor residents, who were forcibly evicted by Cambodian authorities in the name of preserving the site.

Nobody wants to leave their house“, Amnesty International said in a report published on its website on Tuesday. These are the words of a resident of Angkor, who has lived for more than 70 years on the UNESCO World Heritage List and was forced by the Cambodian authorities to leave her home in the name of “preservation”. The approximately 400 km² protected site of Angkor, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992, is home to almost 120,000 people (2013 according to AFP data). Today, the temples of Angkor are threatened by mass tourism, but also by the pressure that residents exert on the environment, whether it is waste management or the increasing use of water.

The Cambodian authorities are threatening

For its report, Amnesty interviewed 100 residents of the Angkor temples about the questionable actions of the Cambodian police. The organization’s findings are clear: “The Cambodian authorities cruelly evicted families who had lived in Angkor for several generations, forcing them to live daily in poorly equipped places.“. Testimonies collected by Amnesty show the policy of pressure carried out by the Cambodian authorities, which leaves residents with no choice but to “leave orjoin the resettlement program“.

They said it wasn’t mandatory, but if we don’t go, we lose the country… So we signed up voluntarily“, one resident explained to Amnesty International investigators.

The NGO therefore decided to directly challenge the organization dependent on the United Nations, calling on it to act. “If UNESCO is determined to put human rights at the center of all its activities, it must strongly condemn forced evictions as an instrument of World Heritage site management and use its influence to demand that the Cambodian government put an end to it and push for a public and independent investigation“, writes Amnesty.

UNESCO’s response

On Wednesday, a day after Amnesty’s investigation was published, UNESCO released a response. The heritage preservation organization calls itself “deeply concerned by the allegations contained in the Amnesty International report» and denies any involvement in »the population displacement program in Angkor carried out by the Cambodian authorities“.

In its press release, UNESCO calls on the Cambodian authorities to take urgent measures to respect the rights of residents and “not to carry out forced evictions in Angkor“. Finally, the organization announces that it has pushed back the deadlines for a new national report on the state of preservation of the Angkor site. Scheduled for February 1, 2024, this new report “must contain a response to Amnesty International’s allegations“, concludes UNESCO.

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