By Pav Suy
Koh Kong, Cambodia, July 11, 2016
Only a few days after the Koh Kong Provincial Court found three environmental activists guilty for protesting against a sand dredging company, the Ministry of Energy and Mines has called for greater civilian participation in protecting The Kingdom’s natural resources.
Suy Sem, the Minister of Mining and Energy, issued a strong warning to mining and sand-dredging companies, saying those who do not act within ministerial guidelines will have their licenses revoked, be blacklisted and sent to court.
“It is time for the ministry to take harsh measures and blacklist and revoke the business licenses and send cases to court,” he said at a meeting on Tuesday.
“This is the final instruction about the measures and action by the Ministry of Mining and Energy against any mining business, transport and sand-dredging activities that are against the laws of the ministry.”
In a letter dated July 1, Mr. Sem called for the participation of citizens and international NGOs and development partners to help protect the Kingdom’s natural resources.
“The Ministry of Mining and Energy braces itself to cooperate with the communities, national and international NGOs and development partners to be present in the Kingdom of Cambodia to participate in the protection and development of natural resources in a sustainable way.”
San Chey, the executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, was not convinced the ministry would step up to enforce its regulations against dredging and mining companies, many of whom have been found operating without a license or approval from the ministry.
“It is same old story. The irregularity in the mining and sand-dredging operations was even seen in the first place due to the lack of real studies of the impacts and this is still controversial,” he said.
“They seem to be strict for when the ministry inspection officials pay a visit to the site. This is according to what I talked about to the community.”
The minister’s comments fly in the face of last week’s court decision to fine three Mother Nature activists who were imprisoned for protesting against a sand dredging operation in Koh Kong province.
The court found them guilty of instigation and threatening to cause destruction, defacement or damage under article 424 and 28 of the Penal Code.
The trio spent 10 months and 15 days in pre-trial detention and were ordered to jointly pay $25,000 to a Vietnamese-owned sand dredging company and $500 each to the state, in a trial that has been widely condemned as a farce.
The flouting of regulations by mining and dredging companies has been widely reported in Cambodia.
In 2009, Prime Minister Hun Sen banned dredged sand exports, citing the need to conduct environmental studies. According to human rights NGO Global Witness, the ban had not only been completely ignored, but the rate of dredged sand being exported from Cambodia’s coastline had increased.
Mr. Chey noted the irony in the minister’s statement and said the government should stop targeting environmental activists and instead go after illegal mining and dredging operations.
“I used to give the opinion that before protecting the natural resources, it needs to protect the natural resource’s defenders first,” he said.
“The environmental defenders got imprisoned and they have to pay fines to the company instead. The ministry should look into the license of [the Vietnamese company] and have it testify in court to help the community activists that help defend the natural resources.”