The Cheay Areng Dam is a proposed hydropower project in the Cardamom Mountains of Koh Kong Province, Cambodia. Although currently suspended, the project is still a part of Cambodia’s Department of Energy Master Plan. If it proceeds, the Cheay Areng Dam will displace approximately 1500 Indigenous Chorng people who have called the Areng Valley home for over 600 years, destroying their traditions and culture. The project is expected to produce relatively little electricity, and the environmental costs may be extremely high. During earlier stages of this project, EarthRights worked on independent fact-finding projects and engaged with government and private sector stakeholders.
Although no environmental impact assessment for the Cheay Areng dam was ever released to the public, the surrounding wilderness is the largest remaining unbroken tract of woodland forest in mainland Southeast Asia. The culture and livelihoods of the Indigenous Chorng are closely tied to this wilderness. Initial development for the project, including access roads, has been linked to reports of illegal logging and poaching. The Areng Valley is home to a number of rare and endangered species, including Siamese crocodiles, Royal Turtles, and Asian tigers, and is a crucial elephant migration corridor.
The Indigenous Chorng (Khmer Daeum) people have spent years locked in a struggle to keep the Chinese developers and contractors from entering their land. A community roadblock, in place from March 2014, prevented company personnel from undertaking the feasibility and environmental impact studies necessary to begin construction. Several community members and activists were arrested in September 2014 for maintaining the roadblock. EarthRights supported the Areng communities’ protests and worked with them to garner support from a national and international media campaign, backed by local NGOs, Mother Nature Cambodia, and a group of activist Buddhist monks. EarthRights also supported Chorng communities in their broader campaign to claim their rights as Indigenous peoples and to register their land with the government under collective land titles.
International and Cambodian civil society groups issued a complaint in 2015 to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia, raising concerns over human rights violations related to the Cheay Areng and Lower Sesan 2 hydropower projects. The complaint called on the Special Rapporteur to investigate and seek remedial action for existing and imminent breaches of human rights in relation to these projects.
In early 2015, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen responded to pressure from the Chorng activists and announced that development of the project would be suspended until 2018. In February 2017, the Cambodian government put the project on hold indefinitely, announcing that the energy need would instead be met through upgrades to an existing coal power plant. Though the dam is suspended, in early 2017, the government approved a plan to build a power line through the Cardamom Protected Forest. The feasibility and impact studies for the hydropower project are still moving forward, and the dam remains a part of Cambodia’s Department of Energy Master Plan.