Thousands of families have been evicted from Cambodia’s iconic Angkor Wat temple in a move that has now drawn stern criticism from human rights groups.
As previously reported by Travel Tomorrow, the Cambodian government is pushing to boost its tourism sector after the Covid-19 pandemic caused it to stall. The airport serving the area is being replaced with a new facility 40 km (25 miles) away from the fragile temple site to avoid structural damage caused by traffic.
As part of that growth strategy, it appears to have weaponised the ancient temple’s UNESCO World Heritage status to force families dwelling and working there to leave.
Up to 10,000 families have been affected by the ersatz expulsions, with people told that UNESCO would take away the temple’s designation if they did not get out. Some of the families are smallholders and farmers. Others earn a living from tourists and visitors to the temple, but, given the impression that its UNESCO reputation might be damaged if they did not leave, they have been left with little choice but to follow the government’s line.
Human rights breaches
It is true that the temple was awarded its UNESCO heritage label back in 1992 among fears that human settlement activity might jeopardise its preservation. However UNESCO has not clarified what this means for the families who live there. Now, human rights group Amnesty International have weighed in, calling on UNESCO to condemn the policy of uprooting the temple dwellers.
NEW REPORT: Cambodian authorities cruelly uprooted families who have lived in Angkor for several generations, forcing them to live hand to mouth at ill-prepared relocation sites. https://t.co/kKtwrKLSgH— amnestypress (@amnestypress) November 14, 2023
The human rights group says the evictions breach international and national law. Its research has found that those evicted have not been properly compensated for the loss of their homes and livelihoods, have been resettled at unworkable distances from their former locations and do not have appropriate roads, water and electricity supplies and sanitation.
Intimidation and violence
Interviews with over 100 people have revealed that, in contrast to government claims that people are vacating their homes voluntarily, they are in fact doing so after being “intimidation, harassment, threats and acts of violence from Cambodian authorities.”
“Nobody wants to leave their home,” one woman who had lived in Angkor for more than 70 years told the researchers.
UNESCO is reported as refusing to take a stand, saying it “does not have the ability to enforce implementation of rights-based standards and policy recommendations, as our role is rather focused on policy advice, capacity building and advocacy.”