At a Glance
Stop Evictions: a photographic journey from eviction to relocation, a multi-media exhibit. Opens May 4, 7 p.m. Through June.
For more than a year, the forced relocations of Phnom Penh residents to undeveloped, often unlivable, resettlement sites outside the capital has sparked international outrage and political controversy.
In few places was the process more visible than the impoverished community of Tonle Bassac’s Village 14, or Sambok Chab. In June 2006, Phnom Penh Municipal officials and armed police began evicting more than 1,000 families to make way for a development project financed by a private company. There were standoffs and turmoil before police stormed the village, dismantled homes and trucked reluctant squatters and their belongings to an undeveloped site some 25 kilometers outside city limits.
On the new land there were a few public latrines, no drainage, no sanitation, no electricity, no water supply, no shops, markets or schools and no opportunity for employment. Human rights groups blasted the removal as inhumane, and the new residences — 4-by-12-meter plots with no structures or facilities – as unacceptable compensation.
According to an NGO survey, within just three months of the eviction only 40 percent of the plots were occupied. Because of the harsh conditions most families returned to Phnom Penh to live with relatives or on the street.
Nearly a year later, the debate about Sambok Chab continues to rage, and the plight of those evicted has been echoed in similar incidents throughout the Kingdom.
Now, during the months of May and June at the FCC Phnom Penh, the saga of the displaced villagers will be told through heart-wrenching photographs taken throughout the eviction process. “Stop Evictions” opens at 7:00 p.m. on May 4 with a video screening, a presentation by the Housing Rights Task Force, and the unveiling of some 35 images taken by professional photographers, journalists and rights activists.
The collection is the brainchild of Hallam Goad, 37, a resident of Cambodia since 1998 who had worked with relocation victims for years before co-founding the NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut in 2005. For “Stop” he’s brought together images, film footage and comparative analysis that seek to explain the truth and consequences of the situation.
“The exhibition is to show how ridiculous and corrupt this process was, and the impact it had on people. The idea is for tourists and the English-speaking community to see a different side of Cambodia,” said Goad. “We ask the viewer to draw their own conclusions about the state of development in Cambodia.”
Goad sees the relocation as an abject failure, but he is quick to point out that the selected images are meant not to preach, but to speak for themselves about the pain, confusion and anger of the evictees. He was last at the relocation site just days ago and calls the situation “just miserable.”
“We’re not saying no one should be moved, that Phnom Penh should stand still. Even the people understand this themselves. They’ve said to us, ‘We’re OK to move, just give us a chance to make a new living,” said Goad. “Ever since 1998 you could see that sooner or later the city would push these people off because the land is so valuable. We want people to understand it’s the way they carried out the relocation, no the relocation itself, that was a crap process.”
To illustrate this, Goad includes in “Stop Evictions” an example of a successful relocation from almost a decade ago.
“In 1998 the municipality was involved in a constructive process,’” he said. “Some 129 families were successfully relocated from near the Olympic Stadium to a site five kilometers outside the city with land chosen by the people, purchased by the municipality and supported by UNCHS and rights NGOs. It shows that while relocation is a difficult undertaking it is possible to do it effectively, humanely and to the benefit of all parties.”
Goad’s collection of evidence and imagery has attracted more than one prestigious sponsor.
“Land rights are a hot topic, and we thought they had a good, creative approach to bring the issue to the public,” said Anisha Schubert, of German aid organization DED. “They’re not trying to be provocative, but they’ve worked with many different people to focus on good stories.”
DED is the main sponsor of the FCC show, and it was initial assistance from the Germans that got the project started last year. Goad and US photographer Niles Sprague were funded to document the eviction and resettlement. Along the way, the two teamed with journalists, activists and especially the Cambodian Legal Education Center, to collect an effective record of events. The photographs taken by Sprague and the CLEC team form the foundation of “Stop Evictions.”
“Another aim of the show is to promote the Housing Rights Task Force, which is a group of NGOs that pulled together as a response to growing issues,” said Goad. “The idea is that instead of one or two groups jumping up and down and saying this is bad, and possibly becoming a target, is to put together a conglomeration of groups that can work together.”
The show is free, but may not be for the faint of heart. Goad said he’d like to get several villagers to give firsthand accounts of their experience and to display samples of the water available at the relocation site after tested by the Pasteur Institute.
“This is an awareness raiser, but there are other things bubbling away: we’d like to start a letter-writing campaign ahead of the Boeung Kak eviction and maybe do some sort of fund raising,” he said. “But the most important thing is to create dialogue. If people look at what happened at Sambok Chab – it was a complete failure. It’s hard to imagine things getting worse.”