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  • Louise Wagon

Amnesty denounces Unesco's silence in the face of expulsions at Angkor

On November 14, Amnesty International published a damning report on the human rights situation in Angkor, the ancient capital of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to the 14th century. The report accuses Unesco of "failing in its responsibility to uphold and promote human rights" by not condemning the forced evictions of thousands of families from the vast temple park by the Cambodian authorities.

Photo de militaire transportant les biens d'un résident près du temple Angkor
This photo taken on January 18, 2023 shows an army truck transporting a resident's belongings near Angkor Wat temple in Siem Reap province. © Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP/Getty Images

The authorities claim that the villagers are leaving the site voluntarily. However, Amnesty International carried out an in-depth investigation, including interviews with over 100 of those affected. Almost all those interviewed claimed to have been forced to leave the archaeological site due to intimidation, harassment, threats and even violence perpetrated by the Cambodian authorities. Nearly 10,000 households have been moved to two areas lacking adequate infrastructure such as roads, water, electricity and sanitation. The evictees are also deprived of Angkor's tourism business, which used to provide them with income and economic opportunities.

The evictions began at the end of 2022, under the pretext of protecting this thousand-year-old heritage and preserving its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992. In reality, the site has never been threatened with losing its status since 2004, when it was decided that "preservation of the site from destruction was reasonably safe". These expulsions are motivated by Cambodia's desire to boost tourism around its archaeological sites.

Unesco claims never to have requested the evacuation of the population. However, Amnesty International criticizes the organization for failing to publicly denounce the evictions and relocation conditions, even though it had been informed of them. The report adds that the Cambodian government has frequently invoked Unesco to legitimize its "resettlement" program.

In response to Amnesty International's assertion that the evictions were carried out in its name, Unesco's World Heritage Committee replied that the actions of a member state were not its responsibility, "even if that state justified its actions by invoking the Organization".

Amnesty International calls on Unesco to "strongly condemn forced evictions as an instrument of World Heritage Site management, use its influence to demand that the Cambodian government put an end to them, and press for a public and independent inquiry". The human rights organization warns against the risk of conservation efforts being "increasingly instrumentalized by states for their own ends, to the detriment of human rights".


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