Amnesty International published a report on November 14 on the human rights situation in Angkor, the former capital of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to the 11th centuries. 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 grounds by the Cambodian authorities.
The authorities claim that the villagers are leaving the site voluntarily. However, Amnesty International conducted an in-depth investigation, including interviews with more than 100 people affected. Almost all of those interviewed say they were forced to leave the archaeological site due to intimidation, harassment, threats, and violence perpetrated by Cambodian authorities. Nearly 10,000 households were displaced to two areas lacking adequate infrastructure. The expelled people are also deprived of the tourist activity of Angkor, which provided them with an income.
These expulsions 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, date on which it was decided that “preservation of the destruction site was reasonably safe”. These expulsions are motivated by Cambodia’s desire to boost tourism around archaeological sites.
UNESCO claims to have never requested the evacuation of populations. Amnesty International criticizes the organization for not having publicly denounced the evictions and the conditions of rehousing, even though it was informed of them. The report adds that the Cambodian government has frequently invoked UNESCO to legitimize its “resettlement”.
In response to Amnesty International’s claim that the evictions were being carried out in its name, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee responded that the actions of a member state were not its responsibility, “even if this State justified its actions by invoking the Organization”.
Amnesty International calls on UNESCO to “strongly condemn forced evictions as a tool for managing a World Heritage site, to use its influence to demand that the Cambodian government put an end to it and to press for a public and independent investigation”. Human rights organization warns of risk that conservation efforts will be “increasingly exploited by States for their own ends, to the detriment of human rights”.