Human Rights Watch has released a report on the impact of China’s Belt and Road initiative on the lower Mekong Countries, Saying; Huge dams initiated by China to generate electricity in northeastern Cambodia and Laos have destroyed the lives and livelihoods thousands of people.
The Lower Sesan 2 Dam, completed in 2018, is located at the confluence of the Sesan and Serepok rivers, where two tributaries will meet again with the Mekong River.
The 137-page report released yesterday said the dam’s construction caused economic, social and cultural rights violations, forcing people who had settled in the area for generations to move.
In addition, Human Rights Watch also pointed out that Cambodian officials and officials of China’s Huaneng Group, (the dam builder and operator) did not speak and listen to the opinions and concerns of the communities that would be affected before starting to build the dams.
Compensation and relocation
Human Rights Watch’s director of Asia advocacy John Sifton says the Lower Sesan 2 dam had “blown up” the livelihoods of indigenous peoples and minorities in the area. Previously, they used to live together and self-sufficiency through fishing, hunting and farming.
“The Cambodian authorities must urgently reconsider the compensation and relocation of people from this project. including how to restore the way of living and making sure future projects don’t have any similar violations.”
Human Rights Watch came to its conclusions after interviews with community members, Civil society leaders, academics, scientists and others who have researched the project and also studied academic work Business history, research conducted by non-governmental organizations and other sources.
China Huaneng Group is the Chinese state-owned power company that builds and operates the dams, which are a part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Human Rights Watch said it had contacted Chinese and Cambodian government officials, including China Huaneng Group in March 2020 and May and July 2021 for comment on the report, however they refused to reply.
China’s Huaneng did not set up any effective grievance mechanisms to resolve disputes or complaints, Human Rights Watch said.
Dam’s impact on livelihoods
A 2020 “Sustainability Report” about the dam commissioned by China Huaneng and released in May 2021 acknowledges many of the dam’s problems but downplays their severity and concludes, without clear explanation, that the project improved the lives of displaced people. The report does not discuss the dam’s impacts on the livelihoods of communities upstream and downstream of flooded areas.
China Huaneng and the Cambodian government can still address some of the project’s harms, mainly by conducting new assessments for compensation and providing more services and training for communities affected by the dam. The governments of China and Cambodia should also undertake more systemic reforms to avoid abuses in future projects.
“The Chinese government needs to drastically reform Belt and Road infrastructure development financing to prevent abuses in other projects undertaken in countries like Cambodia, where the government has a long track record of violating its citizens’ rights,” Sifton said. “The Cambodian government needs to reform its laws to require meaningful impact assessments for development projects and put in place more effective measures to prevent abuses.”
Source: Human Rights Watch