(Corrects in 2nd to last paragraph spelling of Kim Heang's name, and month elections were held to July.)
PHNOM PENH (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When I met rights activist Tep Venny last month, she was frustrated and angry that there had been no real progress over the land dispute that has engulfed her community in Boeung Kak Lake in Phnom Penh.
More than 4,200 families were affected after the Cambodian government granted Shukaku, a company owned by ruling party senator Lao Meng Khin, a 99-year lease in 2007 to build a luxury complex. Thousands of families were forcibly evicted and many didn't receive adequate compensation.
The 90-hectare lake is now filled with sand. The once-thriving area is quiet with a blue fence around the former lake.
Venny, who won the 2013 Vital Voices award for her tireless efforts over the land dispute, was furious with the government, which has become notorious among ordinary Cambodians for corruption and a blatant disregard for its people’s well-being. She was also angry with international donors for not creating enough safeguards to ensure their money wasn't used to oppress the population.
Long Kim Heang, senior communications officer at local organisation Housing Rights Task Force, agrees. Cambodia's land disputes and forced evictions are linked to the donors because they have failed to take action, she said.
This is a common refrain among Cambodian activists. Donor funds account for up to half of the central government budget yet donors don't seem to have any leverage when it comes to getting the government to improve its human rights record.
In 2010, donors pledged $2.8 billion in development aid for the period ending 2012. Rights groups have urged donors repeatedly to withhold funds due to a crackdown on protests and activists and escalating land grabs and forced evictions.
Although China, Vietnam and South Korea are often criticised for giving money without conditions, Western donors who usually talk loudly about upholding human rights aren't doing more to improve the situation either.
Venny singled out the World Bank, saying it was going back on its word. When the World Bank in 2011 decided to stop funds for Cambodia over forced evictions, it said: "Until an agreement is reached with the residents of Boeung Kak Lake, we do not expect to provide any new lending to Cambodia."
Venny said she met a World Bank representative during a trip to the United States who said the Bank wants to reengage and provide unconditional aid to Cambodia.
"We're really concerned," Venny said. "I told him, 'The sign in front of your headquarters says "World Bank helps to reduce poverty" but if you come and look at what happened to my community, you'll find your policies don't work'."
The World Bank in Cambodia did not respond to a question on resuming funding but told the Thomson Reuters Foundation: "We continue to encourage the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) to resolve land disputes fairly and peacefully. We are closely monitoring the BKL (Boeung Kak Lake )issues."
And it's not just the World Bank. Some activists say the Asian Development Bank (ADB), AusAid and the European Union have taken little action when the projects they fund have been shown to have adverse effects.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about how the EU's Everything But Arms policy, designed to reduce poverty in the world's poorest countries, is doing the exact opposite in Cambodia. Politically-connected businessmen and businesses owned by politicians are grabbing land to plant sugarcane, with the processed sugar exported duty-free to Europe.
The evictees became landless and labourers at the plantations where their living conditions and ability to feed themselves worsened. Activists accuse the EU of not criticising these land grabs. The EU says it takes the issue seriously.
A $142-million rail project led by ADB and AusAid has resulted in forced evictions, inadequate compensation and families being resettled to areas lacking in job opportunities. Rights groups that highlighted the problems were warned by the Cambodian government and one was suspended.
Activist Kim Heang was herself targeted when pro-government TV stations ran pictures of her every day for three weeks prior to elections in July and repeated government allegations that she masterminded the protests. The vitriol became so bad she left Cambodia for a month.
Last week, riot police and men in plain clothes attacked Boeung Kak protesters with sticks, tasers and slingshots. Venny's mother took a hit between her eyes. According to Human Rights Watch, the United States, China and Vietnam - three big donors - provided training and equipment to Cambodia's security forces.