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I think it is heavier [more serious] than the bombardment that the United States fired into Iraq in the last few daysY We may be a poor country, but we will not tolerate any dumping of toxic or industrial waste on our soil, no matter how lucrative the business may be.

B Prime Minister Hun Sen, in his initial response to the scandal

I think there must be a trial. To do this [import the waste], many people must have been involved. There must be a penalty, not just for this case, but to warn people not to allow this to happen again.

BSihanoukville official

Investigating the Importers

In addition to the prosecution of the alleged demonstrators, the Sihanoukville court has been holding a parallel investigation into the waste importation which provoked the riots. The second investigation has been conducted by Chief Judge Huon Mony.

The only person imprisoned because of the waste is Sam Moeun, head of the Muth Vuthy import-export company which handled the shipment on the Cambodia side. He was arrested in Phnom Penh on December 18, 1998, the day before the protests began, and sent to Sihanoukville. After a complaint by the Ministry of Environment, he was charged under Cambodia's environment law. Like at least one of the demonstrators, he was initially kept in shackles at Sihanoukville prison. He was refused pre-trial release by both the Sihanoukville court and the Court of Appeal in Phnom Penh.

According to information given to the court, Sam Moeun had been responsible for dealing with Customs, Camcontrol and other official entities, but two Taiwanese men (presumably from Formosa's Taiwan contractor, Jade Fortune International Co.) were also in Cambodia to oversee the shipment. Sam Moeun told the court that the two men, who allegedly told him that the waste was stone, were still in Cambodia when news broke that it was possibly toxic. He maintained that on December 16 he had unsuccessfully tried to get police and court officials in Phnom Penh, where the two men were at the time, to apprehend them.92 The men are believed to have fled the country.

Ros Teat, the military commander who said that he sold the dumpsite land to a Taiwanese man without knowing what it was to be used for, has been questioned but not charged by the court.

Out of the one hundred officials whom the government reportedly suspended temporarily on suspicion of involvement in authorizing the importation, a total of nine were subsequently named as targets of the Sihanoukville court's investigation. More than a month after the waste arrived in Cambodia, the court questioned national Customs Director In Saroeun, who had authorized the importation, and several other officials. In February 1999, the court file preliminary charges against three of these officials: In Saroeun, Lonh Vannak of the Customs pricing department, and senior Camcontrol official Peng Chheng. In contrast to the treatment of Licadho's Kim Sen and Meas Minear, the three accused officials were brought to the court, with their lawyers, eight days after arrests warrants were issued for them, and were immediately granted pre-trial release.93

In April 1999, Chief Judge Huon Mony said he had completed his investigation into the waste importation and that a total of seven people would be charged: importer Sam Moeun; the two Taiwanese men, identified as Kao Chia Song and a Mr Chang, and a translator who worked for them named Pang Phoeung; and the three officials In Saroeun, Lonh Vannak and Peng Chheng. All would be tried under Cambodia's environment law, facing up to five years imprisonment and/or substantial fines if convicted of damaging the environment, according to the judge. All seven accused would also be charged with either falsifying documents or being accessories to the falsifying of the documents, the judge said. He did not elaborate on the reason for these charges, which also carry penalties of up to five years' imprisonment. Regarding the Taiwanese men and their translator, the judge said their whereabouts were not known but that they would be tried in absentia if they did not appear in court.94

Some sources suggest that the court does not want to anger senior government figures by moving too quickly or too widely in its investigation. One Justice Ministry official told Human Rights Watch that he was personally told by one of the court's judges that it was up to the government to decide who should be charged. In fact, that is exactly true. Under Article 51 of Cambodia's Common Statute on Civil Servants, courts are required to secure government approval before questioning or prosecuting any civil servant.95 The court has sought (and received) permission from several government ministries to investigate their staff over the importation.

Privately, several officials say the importation almost certainly involved bribery, and the deal likely went higher than the three officials who were arrested, but that there has been plenty of time to destroy any incriminating documents. There is no proof, but it is true, insisted one high-ranking national official. Whether it was three million dollars, like Hun Sen stated, I don't know, but I am sure that there was bribery. 96 Opposition political leaders have alleged that the three officials charged are scapegoats for decisions made at higher levels.

The court investigation aside, the government itself has not issued any public accounting of who authorized the waste importation, and how and why. The senior officials who had originally demanded thorough investigations and pledged that government heads would roll have since fallen quiet. Prime Minister Hun Sen, after his initial statements about the waste dumping, has barely uttered a public word about the matter since.

Meanwhile, two National Assembly committees, one responsible for the environment and the other for finance, have begun investigations into the waste importation. It is unclear whether the investigations will be conducted publicly. Such investigations are rare in Cambodia; some parliamentarians have previously complained of a lack of government accountability and cooperation with the National Assembly.

Environmental Regulations

Senior government officials have said that toxic waste imports are prohibited in Cambodia, but the nation's environmental laws and regulations, at the time of the Taiwanese case, did not specifically define or forbid toxic waste. Some lawyers have argued that this loophole raises serious doubts about whether anyone involved in the waste importation can be fairly convicted of endangering the environment. All the seven accused have been charged under a provision of the 1996 environment law which contains penalties for violations of the law which cause danger to human bodies or lives, to private property, to public property, to the environment, or to natural resources.

In the absence of a statutory ban on hazardous waste, the issue of what violation has been committed in this case is a matter of contention. The environment law calls for separate regulations to be passed on land, water and air pollution, and on hazardous substances. One such sub-decree, on water pollution, was passed, in March 1999. In late April 1999, the government approved a second sub-decree, on solid waste control, which includes explicit bans on the importation of both toxic and non-toxic industrial waste to Cambodia. The two sub-decrees were prepared by the Ministry of Environment, which is also drafting other regulations relating to pollution.

The Waste: Analysis and Preliminary Clean-up

At the time of the demonstrations, no one knew what was in the waste or how dangerous it was. On December 22, a day after Kim Sen and Meas Minear's arrests, army experts from Thailand, armed with a geiger counter, visited the site and established once and for all that the waste was not radioactive. They took samples of it away for scientific analysis.

The next day, the government moved to make a preliminary clean-up of the site; several hundred soldiers and port workers began packing and sealing the waste into old steel drums and shipping containers at the dumpsite. The soldiers were provided with protective clothing but, in the intense heat, many did not use it. Some of them soon also complained of sickness. Meanwhile, the authorities began collecting the plastic sheets scavenged from the waste by local residents.

Formosa Plastics of Taiwan, which had by now been identified as the producer of the waste, did not respond to initial requests by Cambodia's Ministry of Environment for information on the waste contents.97 In Taiwan, Formosa officials insisted that the shipment was safe, legal and non-toxic ; one spokesman said that there was no way the company would take the waste back.98 Meanwhile, the Cambodia government had decided, without seeing any scientific analysis of its contents that the waste should be returned to sender.

Initially, communication between the Cambodian and Taiwanese governments was poor. Cambodia does not recognize Taiwan, and relations between the two nations have been stormy: Hun Sen, soon after his July 1997 military coup against his then co-Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, evicted the Taiwanese representative office in Phnom Penh in 1997, accusing Taiwan of supporting Ranariddh. After the Sihanoukville dumping, Taiwan's Foreign Ministry accused Phnom Penh of making irrational and groundless statements about the health dangers of the waste. A few days later, Taiwan complained that Cambodia was trying to deal with Beijing, which claims sovereignty over Taiwan, over the issue.99 Taiwan's Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) later secured Phnom Penh approval to visit Cambodia to inspect the dumpsite.

Initial samples of the waste had been sent to Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan and Japan. The testing focused on mercury and other heavy metals, which were presumed, because Formosa was a major PVC manufacturer, to be the most likely toxins present. Japan's National Institute for Minamata Disease, which specializes in the study of mercury poisoning, was contracted by the World Health Organization's Cambodian office to assess the Sihanoukville case.

All the tests identified varying, but extremely high, levels of mercury in the waste. The samples were tested to show the total weight content of mercury and other metals in them (measured by parts-per-million, or ppm, which is the same as milligrams per kilogram). Judging by color and composition, the waste was divided into several different types of material. The blackest pieces were found to be the most toxic, with recorded mercury levels of up to 675ppm (in the Singapore tests), 3,790ppm (Thailand), 3,984ppm (Japan) and as high as 10,971ppm (Hong Kong).100 The mercury was believed to be inorganic, which is insoluble in water but poisonous by ingestion or inhalation, although traces of methyl mercury, the most toxic form of organic mercury, were found in one sample taken by the Minamata institute.

Samples were also tested to determine how much mercury or other metals could leach out of the solidified waste, a test known as toxicity characteristic leaching procedure (tclp). These tests are considered more important by environmental authorities, because they show how much of the toxins could leach into soil and groundwater. An analysis of samples by Taiwan's Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) showed a tclp mercury content of 0.284ppm, exceeding the EPA's 0.2 limit which defines hazardous waste. On the basis of this, the EPA concluded that Formosa had unlawfully exported hazardous waste and ordered the company to begin preparations to remove the waste from Cambodia.101 Another test, done in Hong Kong, showed a mercury tclp level of .80ppm, four times the Taiwan maximum limit.

Initial tests conducted on water samples taken from wells near the dumpsite indicated that they had not been contaminated with leached mercury from the waste, apparently because there had been too little rainfall to cause much seepage. Dry weather at the present in Cambodia may be a redeeming feature in a tragic affair, noted a report by Japan's Minamata institute.102 However, one well close to the dumpsite was later ordered closed after subsequent tests indicated an elevated level of mercury in sediment, rather than water, taken from the well.103

Other metals identified in various waste samples were lead, iron, chromium, manganese, nickel, lithium, zinc and copper. Most were within natural soil levels, though some samples reported higher amounts of zinc, chromium and lead. There was no immediate testing for other possible toxic compounds.


Mercury, a silvery toxic metal that is liquid at room temperature, is perhaps best known as the liquid in thermometers. Humans absorb mercury through the skin or through contaminated food or water, or by inhaling its vapors; the most common form is through eating fish, which readily accumulate mercury. Chronic, usually long-term mercury poisoning causes skin disorders, kidney damage, hemorrhaging and attacks the brain and central nervous system. The old expression mad as a hatter refers to people who had prolonged mercury exposure in their job making felt hats. In more recent times, severe mercury poisoning is known as Minamata disease, named after the Japanese seaside city of Minamata, where the petrochemical firm Chisso Corporation discharged thousands of tons of organic mercury into the bay for decades from 1932. Local residents, who relied heavily on seafood for their diet, were gradually poisoned after eating contaminated fish. Some 3,000 people (about half are now dead) are officially recognized as Minamata disease victims, although some experts put the real toll as high as 20,000 people.104 The sufferers include second-generation victims born with physical or mental disabilities because their parents ate poisoned fish.

Sihanoukville Deaths and Sickness

The death of Pich Sovann, the port worker who died within hours of hospitalization on December 16, was followed by that of a young man in Bettrang commune on December 19. The latter had handled and slept on plastic sheeting looted from the waste. Later, after the demonstrations had occurred, several other deaths of people who had been in contact with the waste were reported in Bettrang.

Autopsies are rarely conducted in Cambodia, and the country does not have the technical equipment or expertise to identify toxins in blood or other body samples. The health system is generally poor, and misdiagnosis is common. According to a review of Sihanoukville hospital records by the international medical agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Pich Sovann was diagnosed with appendicitis and pancreatitis. From the symptoms given in the hospital records, MSF concluded that it was impossible to establish the exact cause of death. In regard to the young villager who later died, MSF concluded that his symptoms before death did not match the possible effects of exposure to the waste. It made a similar conclusion with regard to several other deaths, (finding, for example, that the deceased were old or had longstanding health problems).105

In a December 25-26, 1998 fact-finding mission, Japan's Minamata institute took blood, hair and urine samples from nine port workers and five soldiers, the latter involved in the initial clean-up of the waste into metal drums, who complained of sickness. It took no samples from nearby villagers. After analysis in Japan, the institute concluded that mercury levels in the body samples were within the normal range, although urine samples (considered one of the best indicators of mercury poisoning) were slighter higher than normal in some of the subjects. The institute noted that it could not be definitive because the body samples were not taken at the time of exposure to the waste or when the claimed sickness was at its worst. However, it concluded that the people it sampled were unlikely to be suffering from mercury poisoning.

The medical group MSF, meanwhile, concluded, after an exploratory mission to Sihanoukville January 10 to 13, 1999, Ait is very likely that a health risk is associated with this waste. However, it noted that the symptoms cited by port workers and villagers were largely non-specific, such as headaches, and therefore could not necessarily be attributed to mercury. Other toxins were possible and likely.

In February, MSF carried out a second investigation, which included the interviewing, examination and (where necessary) treatment of 1,300 people exposed to the waste. Based on the presence of two to three clearly defined symptoms, MSF tried to quantify a probable connection between the waste and the sicknesses reportedly suffered. Of those whom it interviewed, it concluded that there was a probable connection in the cases of 48 percent of the port workers; 50 percent of the villagers at the small mill village near the dumpsite; 33 percent of the soldiers who initially packed the waste into metal drums; and 35 percent of the Bettrang villagers. MSF noted that, by the time the survey was carried out, the health of nearly all of those interviewed had improved considerably. This was consistent with short-term exposure to toxins and also consistent with the half-life of mercury in the body (sixty days). It found no evidence that long-term harm to the population should be expected, providing that the waste was removed and the dumpsite properly decontaminated.

An independent toxicologist commissioned by a local legal aid group concluded that it was possible that the health effects were the result not solely of mercury but of a mixture of toxins. The toxicologist recommended more comprehensive testing of the waste for other organic substances and contaminants such as dioxins and furans.106 At time of writing of this report, the results of World Health Organization-commissioned tests for dioxins in samples of the waste had been received but not made public.

Reports of Sea Dumping

There is a sizeable discrepancy between the number of bags of waste listed on the cargo ship's manifesto and those counted on arrival in Sihanoukville. Some 200 bags, roughly 10 percent of the shipment, are unaccounted for, according to environment and court officials.107 There have been newspaper reports that some of the bags may have been dumped in the sea in a bid to reduce the cargo, and therefore the import tax paid on it, while negotiations between the importer and local officials were going on before the ship was unloaded.108 However, skeptics maintain that the bags, weighing at least one ton apiece, would have been difficult to dump from the ship; they also note that in the end import tax was paid on the entire consignment, as listed on the shipment's manifesto. The minister of environment disputes the suggestion of sea dumping, maintaining that the discrepancy is probably due to paperwork or weighing errors.109

Economic Effects of Importation

Many people temporarily fled Sihanoukville city in the initial panic. In Bettrang commune, most people stayed. They had no money and nowhere to go. Most continued to work in their rice fields, out of necessity, even if they were sick. At the small mill village next to dumpsite, the population of around one hundred people was forcibly evacuated. They lost their livelihood, having depended on the sawmills at the village. Most of them were itinerants, and many have now left Sihanoukville to try to forge a living elsewhere. Tourism, one of Sihanoukville's major industries, also took a heavy blow. Hotels reported that tourist numbers were two to three times lower than normal over the Christmas period. Because of the exodus from Sihanoukville and the lack of tourists, local markets suffered reduced business, though this is difficult to quantify. Fears that some of the toxic waste may have been dumped in the sea prompted a slump in demand (and prices) for fish and shrimp. Some fishers reported a 30 to 40 percent drop in their incomes.110

The family of deceased port worker Pich Sovann (who, married with three young children, was the breadwinner for them) has received some money (about U.S.$400) from the port authorities for funeral and other costs. Other port workers who were off work for as long as one month because of sickness continued to receive their salaries and some money for medical expenses, although some workers say the sums are inadequate. Port workers have reportedly been told by their bosses not to say that the waste poisoned them.111

Compensation Issues

Formosa Plastics, in its contacts with the Cambodian government, has consistently refused to discuss the issue of compensation for the government or the people exposed to the waste. In a February 25, 1999 agreement struck in Phnom Penh between the government and Formosa, which focused on the removal of the waste from Cambodia, the Taiwan company accepted partial responsibility for medical treatment of affected persons. Formosa agreed to be responsible, for a period of one year, for providing medical care to anyone who was diagnosed with illness caused by the waste. This diagnosis has to be confirmed by two physicians, one appointed by Formosa and one by the Cambodian government, or (in the event of dispute) by a third physician approved by both parties. While Formosa bears responsibility to do medical treatment , the agreement does not state where, how and by whom.

A local NGO, Legal Aid of Cambodia, whose staff observed the negotiations that produced the agreement, has strongly criticized the final document. It has argued that it is not acceptable for victims to be able to get medical care only from Athe party that is responsible for poisoning them and that the wording of the medical provisions is far too vague. It has also criticized the lack of negotiation over compensation for loss of income due to sickness and for any and all harms resulting from the toxic waste.112 Government officials and some other organizations, meanwhile, have pointed out the legal difficulties (given inconclusive medical evidence) in proving direct health consequences to individual Cambodians caused by the waste. Similarly, there are difficulties in quantifying the precise economic losses to individuals because of the waste.

Waste Removal

Four months after the waste arrived in Cambodia, local residents got what they wanted: its removal.

The process began in late December 1998 when Taiwan's Environmental Protection Administration ordered Formosa to retrieve the waste. It was not until the following February that a Formosa delegation sent to Cambodia concluded an agreement with the government to do so. Under the agreement, an American engineering and environmental company, Camp Dresser and McKee Inc., was appointed as a third party expert to oversee the removal and decontamination of the dumpsite. As such, the firm was working for both Formosa and the Cambodian government but paid by Formosa. Separately, Formosa contracted an American hazardous waste landfill company, Safety-Kleen Services, Inc., to take the waste. Under the guidance of the two U.S. firms and some twenty Formosa staff, Cambodian soldiers were used to empty the waste out from the old drums, not suitable for transport, into new ones. More than 4,000 tons of topsoil was also put into drums, as part of the dumpsite clean-up.

Completed ahead of schedule in late March, the end of the repackaging was marked by a ceremony, complete with a hired pop band, Cambodian dignitaries and Formosa representatives. Minister of Interior Sar Kheng told the assembled crowd of villagers, On behalf of the government, I apologize to the people here that government officials colluded to be corrupt and did not think about the nation's interests or people's lives when they took this waste in here. 113 Formosa Plastics Corporation President C.T. Lee, in a statement read at the ceremony, continued to argue that the waste had never been dangerous. The whole incident had been caused by a misunderstanding by common people and the media , and he also blamed the Taiwanese and Cambodian sub-contractors who had not disposed of the waste properly. This had made the people of Cambodia feel greatly unsafe. For this, C.T. Lee offered his sincerest apologies to Prime Minister Hun Sen and the people of Cambodia.114

There was one more surprise at the last minute. As the waste was about to be shipped out of Sihanoukville, the plan to take it to the United States for landfill dumping was abandoned. The same issue that had been problematic in Cambodia, identifying and measuring all toxins in the waste, proved similarly difficult in the U.S. In the face of protests by environmental activists, and after reviewing various test results on waste samples, the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) suspended its initial approval for the importation. The following day, Safety-Kleen, the company which had intended to dump the waste in its California landfill, withdrew its application for EPA approval to do so. In a March 31 statement, Safety-Kleen noted that its plan to dispose of the waste in California had been based on anticipated characteristics and content of the waste materials as provided by the generator [Formosa]. However, after Safety-Kleen had arranged independent sampling and testing of the waste, it had been decided that: Based on Safety-Kleen's independent professional judgment, it has been determined that this material is more complex than originally believed and is potentially non-conforming to U.S. EPA standards for landfill disposal.115 The results of the tests alluded to by Safety-Kleen have not been made public, at time of writing.

Formosa decided to ship the waste back to Taiwan, but it was not expected to stay there for long. We have no intention to keep the stuff here, Formosa's C.T. Lee reportedly told a Taiwanese press conference, adding that the company still wanted to send it to a developed country such as the U.S.116 At time of writing, the final destination of the waste, like its precise content, was unknown.


The toxic waste shipment and its repercussions raise many human rights issues, relating to health, the environment, rule of law, corruption, governance and accountability, and the rights of human rights defenders. The case highlights numerous issues in Cambodia, including lack of judicial independence and professionalism; failure to adhere to basic judicial procedures; inequitable application of the law, with rampant impunity for government officials; a poor human rights situation, and official intolerance for those who work to improve it.

People in Sihanoukville knew that what had happened in the Formosa case was unacceptable. Their anger and alarm were legitimate, although the violence that ensued was not. Licadho's presence during the demonstrations was entirely appropriate. Indeed, it was common practice for human rights defenders to be present at demonstrations, since the latter had so often led to violence and arrests in the past.117 There is no reason to believe that Kim Sen and Meas Minear acted unlawfully.

The United Nations Secretary-General's special representative for human rights in Cambodia, Amb. Thomas Hammarberg, has reportedly said there is not a shred of evidence against Kim Sen and Meas Minear.118 If prominent local human rights workers can be arrested and jailed, it sends a threatening message to ordinary citizens who might otherwise have continued their protests. The arrests also served to distract attention from the issue of who allowed the waste into Cambodia and to warn those who might seek to find out.

If there was initially an element of genuine misunderstanding by the authorities over the Licadho staff's actions, there is no more; the Sihanoukville court knows full well that the charges against them are unsubstantiated. By its reluctance to dismiss the case for lack of evidence, the court compounds the personal and professional damage that the two human rights workers have already suffered. Even if they do not face trial in Sihanoukville, it is unclear whether Kim Sen and Meas Minear (who have been transferred to Licadho's Phnom Penh office since their pre-trial release) would ever feel safe returning there to resume their human rights work.

Given the Sihanoukville court's actions to date, there are serious questions whether the Licadho staff or Khieu Piseth can be assured of receiving the fair trial to which they are entitled under international and Cambodian law.

King Norodom Sihanouk has indicated that he may grant amnesty for Kim Sen and Meas Minear if they are convicted,119 and the Court of Appeal could also overturn any guilty verdict against them made by the Sihanoukville court. However, the prospect of an unfair verdict later being overruled is no substitute for a fair trial in the first place.

It is a sad commentary on the rule of law in Cambodia that while the government is prepared to see human rights workers sent to jail on inadequate evidence, it has consistently ignored calls by human rights organizations for prosecutions of grave crimes such as the deadly March 1997 grenade attack and scores of executions in the wake of Hun Sen's July 1997 coup. At the very same time as Kim Sen and Meas Minear were in Sihanoukville prison, two of the most senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge B which conducted the worst human rights violations in recent Cambodian history B defected to the government, and were feted in Phnom Penh and treated to a holiday in Sihanoukville.

The Sihanoukville court's treatment of Kim Sen and Meas Minear is by no means an isolated case, nor do such deficiencies occur only in overtly political court cases in Cambodia. At the root of the problem is the low education of prosecutors and judges (only twenty out of Cambodia's 135 judges have bachelors or masters degrees),120 their low salaries, and the lack of accountability to ensure that they act independently and professionally. When it wants to, the government has taken action against judges, as in early 1998 when three Court of Appeal judges were temporarily suspended (in relation to the court's first-ever overturning of a lower court's ruling) on suspicion of taking bribes.121

However, Cambodia's Constitution states that the sole body to hire, or discipline, judges is the Supreme Council of Magistracy (SCM), chaired by King Norodom Sihanouk. The establishment of the SCM B along with that of the Constitutional Council, the country's highest legal body B was delayed for years by political wrangling over its membership. The SCM has met only twice, in 1997 and 1998. In the absence of a constitutionally-required law detailing the procedures for hiring and disciplining prosecutors and judges, the SCM B even if it could meet again B is acting in a void. There are no regulations for determining what qualifications and experience they need to be appointed or what improprieties they need to have committed to be removed. In 1998, some Ministry of Justice officials unsuccessfully tried to remove prosecutors and judges in two cases B both involving the release of murder or attempted murder suspects for inexplicable (but possibly financial) reasons.122

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Cambodia is a party, requires treaty members to recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest possible attainment of physical and mental health. It further specifically requires them to take action to guard the health of children; improve all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene; and prevent and control epidemic, endemic and other diseases. While the blame should be shared, and by no means rests solely with the Cambodia government, this illicit shipment of hazardous waste clearly put the physical and mental health of Cambodians at risk.

The Sihanoukville case is an example of companies in industrialized countries using the lack of legislative and public advocacy in developing countries for their convenience. Toxic waste usually follows the path of least resistance, often to developing countries desperate for money and noted for corruption and lack of environmental awareness and laws. Precisely for those reasons, such shipments can be more dangerous than if they were dumped in industrialized countries. Since the Sihanoukville case, it has become clear that Formosa was not the first to look toward Cambodia to solve its waste disposal woes. According to public statements by the minister of environment, several foreign firms had previously tried to get approval to ship industrial waste to Cambodia. Also, a second dumpsite containing 650 tons of plastic, x-ray film and other industrial waste from Korea has since been found in Sihanoukville. Although apparently not toxic, the government is moving to order the removal of that waste.

With an estimated forty-four million tons of hazardous waste shipped internationally each year, according to United Nations estimates, Cambodia is likely to continue to be a target for the trade. Human Rights Watch recommends that Cambodia consider acceding to the 121-country Basel Convention (adopted in Basel, Switzerland in 1989), which governs the international movement of hazardous waste, and the associated Basel Ban Amendment, which aims to ban the trade from industrialized to developing countries. At the same time, urgent domestic laws and regulations are needed to close the many loopholes in Cambodia's environmental controls. The government's action in approving an explicit ban on toxic waste imports must also be backed by administrative and inspection procedures to ensure that the ban is enforced. By ratifying the international documents and passing and enforcing the domestic legislation, the Cambodian government has the opportunity to show the world, and, far more importantly, its own people, that it will not tolerate unnecessary health and environmental dangers to this troubled country.

Human Rights Watch

Asia Division

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92 Khuy Sokhoeun and Ham Samnang, ATwo Taiwanese Sought in Connection with Toxic Dumping,@ The Cambodia Daily, February 9, 1999.

93 Khuy Sokhoeun and Ham Samnang, A3 Charged in Sihanoukville Waste Case,@ The Cambodia Daily, February 15, 1999.

94 Im Sophea and Yuko Maeda, ASeven Charged in Toxic Waste Dumping Case,@ The Cambodia Daily, April 29, 1999.

95 International and national human rights organizations have repeatedly called for this article to be abolished, as a vital action necessary to tackle the chronic problem of government officials= impunity.

96 Human Rights Watch interview with senior government official, March 1999.

97 See AMission Report: Investigation into Suspected Mercury Contamination at Sihanoukville, Cambodia,@ National Institute for Minamata Disease (Japan), January 8, 1999.

98 Agence France Presse and Associated Press reports from Taipei, December 18-19, 1998.

99 See ATaiwan says inquiry will end waste uproar,@ China News, December 23, 1998 and AToxic waste problem escalates: Cambodia appeals to Beijing for help with Taiwanese company, officials say,@ China News, December 24, 1998.

100 For information on waste sample tests, see: Matcor Technology and Services (Singapore) report, December 24, 1998; National Institute for Minamata Disease (Japan), 3Mission Report5 Investigation into Suspected Mercury Contamination at Sihanoukville, Cambodia5 to the World Health Organization, January 8, 1999; Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department letter to Cambodian Ministry of Environment, January 11, 1999; Thailand Army Supreme Command Headquarters letter to Cambodian Ministry of Defense, January 15, 1999.

101 The Taiwan Environmental Protection Administration=s Environmental Policy Monthly, Volume II, Issue 7, January 1999, and an EPA briefing paper sent to Human Rights Watch, March 1999.

102 Mineshi Sakamoto, et al., National Institute for Minamata Disease, AMission Report: Investigation into Suspected Mercury Contamination at Sihanoukville, Cambodia@ to the World Health Organization, January 8, 1999.

103 See Sarah Stephens, AWHO tells NGO team to change toxic report,@ Phnom Penh Post, January 22-February 4, 1999.

104 Sumiko Oshima, ASufferers feel swept aside,@ Japan Times (Tokyo), December 1-10, 1997.

105 See Médecins Sans Frontières= reports: Sophie Biays and Peter Odermatt, AHealth Needs of Risk Groups Exposed to Mercury-Containing Waste in Sihanoukville,@ January 17, 1999; and Barbara Oberhauser and Sok Sarath, AChemical Waste in Sihanoukville: Medical Follow-up of the Exposed Population,@ March 19, 1999.

106 Michele Brandt, AHuman Health Impacts and the Content of the Toxic Waste in Sihanoukville: the Concerns and Recommendations of Legal Aid of Cambodia,@ January 5, 1999.

107 AToxic Waste to be Removed in 60 Days,@ The Cambodia Daily, February 8, 1999.

108 Chea Sotheacheath and Matthew Grainger, AParadise Poisoned,@ The Phnom Penh Post, December 25, 1998-January 7, 1999.

109 Human Rights Watch interview with Minister of Environment Mok Mareth, March 30, 1999.

110 See Mak Sithirith, Vann Piseth, and Chheun Kun Cheat, APreliminary Study of the Impacts of Toxic Waste on the People of Sihanoukville,@ NGO Forum on Cambodia, December 25-28, 1998.

111 Human Rights Watch interviews with port workers and relatives, Sihanoukville, March 1999.

112 See ARecommendations and objections to draft agreement,@ Legal Aid of Cambodia, February 23, 1999.

113 Saing Soenthrith and Kay Johnson, AToxic Waste Sent Off in Style,@ The Cambodia Daily, April 1, 1999.

114 Ibid.

115 March 30, 1999 letter to Safety-Kleen from U.S. EPA Office of Compliance, and March 31 public statement by Safety-Kleen.

116 Angus Chuang, ATaiwan Taking Back Cambodia Mercury Waste, For Now,@ Reuters, April 1, 1999.

117 For example, at least sixteen people were killed and dozens injured in a March 1997 grenade attack on a lawful, peaceful opposition party rally in Phnom Penh. Subsequently, several people were killed C some by security forces and some by demonstrators C during mass protests in Phnom Penh at the result of July 1998 national elections. In those demonstrations, a large number of protesters were detained, some were tortured, and at least one person reportedly arrested was later found shot dead.

118 Nanaho Sawano, AUN Envoy Denounces S=ville Activists= Detention,@ The Cambodia Daily, January 16, 1999.

119 Letter to Kailash Satyarthi, association president, Global March Against Child Labor, from King Norodom Sihanouk, January 11, 1999.

120 See AKR Victims Deserve Justice,@ letter to the editor by Seng Syvutha of the Ministry of Justice, The Cambodia Daily, April 7, 1999.

121 See Eric Pape and Bou Saroeun, AHistoric court ruling: money or justice?,@ Phnom Penh Post, January 16-29, 1998. The then-minister of justice (acknowledging that he had no power to remove or sanction judges) temporarily suspended the three Court of Appeal judges on suspicion of taking bribes. The move followed the Court of Appeal=s overturning a drug trafficking conviction against a Funcinpec military police chief, in what was a highly politicized case (Prime Minister Hun Sen having initially called for the policeman=s arrest).

122 Human Rights Watch interview with senior Ministry of Justice official, Phnom Penh, April 1999.

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