A man sits next to the charred remains of his house that was allegedly burned to the ground by a development
company during a land dispute in Koh Kong province last year. Heng Chivoan
Charles Parkinson and Pech Sotheary
The Phnom Penh Post, Thu, 23 July 2015
A new study from Adhoc warns of grave consequences for Cambodia’s rural communities if the transfer of land into the hands of wealthy local and foreign interests is allowed to continue unabated.
According to the report Whose Land?, in the first six months of 2015 the NGO received 66 complaints of land rights violations affecting more than 3,500 families over more than 8,600 hectares of land.
While it notes that number is a slight reduction on the number of complaints received and area covered compared to the first half of 2014, the number of families affected rose 34 per cent.
The report underscores the fact that a moratorium on economic land concessions (ELCs) established in 2012 does not appear to have been properly implemented, as opaque decision making and a loophole allowing ELCs granted before 2012 to go ahead has seen them seemingly continue to be issued.
As evidence, the report highlights two apparently new ELCs appearing in a Council of Ministers circular from December 2014.
Adhoc could find little information about the companies granted the ELCs, other than the fact they are registered to the same address as four others in Mondulkiri province.
The report also notes that while the first half of 2015 saw a significant drop in the number of people involved in land rights disputes being charged, arrested or imprisoned compared to the previous year, judicial harassment remains of deep concern.
“If people stay on the land, they will be arrested. But if they leave they’ll receive inadequate compensation,” said Adhoc president Thun Saray at the launch of the report.
According to Saray, this results in the “double victimisation” of people battling for rights over land they have long inhabited.
“First their land is robbed, then they are sent to court,” he said.
Two other key concerns are rampant deforestation and the slow pace with which collective land titles (CLTs) are being processed, which particularly affects indigenous communities.
The report also expresses concern at the leap in deforestation seen between 2009 and 2014, with 12.5 per cent of the country’s forests disappearing, compared to just 2.9 per cent in the previous five years.
Meanwhile, the report states that the Cambodian government has agreed to issue just 10 CLTs per year, despite there being 166 currently sought by indigenous communities.
With it taking more than 16 years to process all of them at the current rate, the report warns by then it is possible “land intended for CLTs will have been sold or grabbed”.