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Cambodia Bans Global Witness Report

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Global Witness’s recent report Cambodian Family Trees has been banned by the Cambodian government on the grounds that it was politically motivated, while a government official makes a violent threat against Global Witness staff. The report exposes Cambodian official involvement in illegal logging, tax evasion, bribery, kidnapping and attempted murder.
The Cambodian government has recently banned a report1 released on 1 June 2007 by UK-based NGO Global Witness on the grounds that it was politically motivated, accusing Global Witness of seeking retribution after its expulsion from the country in 20052. Not only has the report been considered “groundless” by the government, a government official has made a violent threat against Global Witness. Mr. Hun Neng, the Kompong Cham provincial Governor and brother of Prime Minister Hun Sen stated that if any Global Witness staff came to Cambodia, he would “hit them until their heads are broken” 3.

The 95-page report titled Cambodia’s Family Trees, is based on in-depth investigation carried out by Global Witness between 2004 until 2007, and exposes the involvement of illegal logging by Cambodian officials, including the Prime Minister and their family members. They are also alleged of tax evasion, bribery, kidnapping and attempted murder.

According to the report, Cambodia is “run by a kleptocratic elite that generates much of its wealth via the seizure of public assets”. One of the most powerful logging syndicate is the Seng Keang Company, controlled by the Prime Minister’s cousin Dy Chouch; his ex-wife Seng Keang; her brother Seng Kok Keang; the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Chan Sarun; and, Director General of the Forest Administration, Ty Sokhum. Under the guise of a rubber plantation scheme, they are alleged of logging timber from Prey Long forest. The targeting of resin trees has also destroyed the livelihoods of hundreds, if not thousands of families living in the area.

Global Witness claims that the company attempted to kill two community forest activists who had protested illegal logging in Prey Long. It was reported that the elite army unit, Brigade 70, which has close connections to senior politicians, including the Prime Minister, transports illegal logged-timber and other smuggled goods.

The report, which came out before the meeting of international aid donors including the European Union, the United States, Japan and the World Bank on 19-20 June 2007, has criticized the donors for not applying pressure on the Cambodian government despite the leverage they could exercise4. Cambodia receives US$600 million annually from international donors.

Global Witness has condemned the banning of its report stating that it is a senseless censorship. Global Witness Director, Simon Taylor also criticizes the threat to its staff as unacceptable, stating that “crude intimidation by a senior public official says little for the government’s commitment to upholding human rights and freedom of expression”5.

Global Witness welcomes the Cambodia government’s latest announcement that it had commissioned the Swiss auditing firm SGS to investigate the cases presented in the report. However, it remains concerned about the scope of the investigation proposed because SGS has previously refused to acknowledge illegal logging when it was hired as the government’s independent monitor of forest law enforcement.

Simon Taylor makes a firm statement that the Cambodian government overturn the unlawful ban on Global Witness’s report, and that international donors need apply more pressure on the government. He also states, “We must not forget that the facts set out in our report concern very serious crimes. As such, the government must ensure that there is a full judicial and police investigation into these issues, and that any such investigation must also be seen as effective. A whitewash would be completely unacceptable”.