LAND GRABS, FORCED EVICTIONS AND LAND SEIZURES IN CAMBODIA

LAND GRABBING IN CAMBODIA

Hun Sen's government has been responsible for the sale of land to foreign investors in 2007-08 resulting in the eviction of thousands of residents from their homes. His critics say the Cambodian government has sold concessions, which totaled two million hectares (4.9 million acres) in 2011, to foreign corporations and this has resulted in local land conflict and environmental degradation.

The Guardian reported: “Cambodia is in the grip of a land-grabbing crisis that has seen more than 2m hectares (5m acres) of land transferred mostly from subsistence farmers to agribusiness. And as good land becomes scarce, the battle for it is becoming increasingly intense. An estimated 400,000 people have been affected by land disputes since 2003. The driving force behind Cambodia's land crisis may be shortsighted greed, but its legacy could be long-term social and environmental catastrophe. The land grab is creating an underclass of landless citizens who have no stake in society and nothing left to lose.” [Source: The Guardian, September 25, 2012]

According to ADHOC, a local NGO that champions human rights, roughly 60,000 people have been forcefully removed in Cambodia in the first half of 2012 alone, half of them from Phnom Penh, and a number of residents in regional cities have been shot dead during clashes with companies that obtained development rights and security forces. A 14-year-old girl died May 15 in Kratie Province after soldiers fired on a crowd. On April 26, an activist was shot and killed in Koh Kong Province. [Source: Takeshi Fujitani, Asahi Shimbun, June 17, 2012]

According to Global Witness: “Since 2008, timber barons have diversified their interests, buying up vast tracts of land for plantations growing export crops like rubber and sugar. A sudden wave of land grabbing has gripped the country, with 2 million hectares of land – roughly 11 per cent of Cambodia’s total land mass – transferred largely from small-scale farmers to agricultural companies. Shockingly, half of this total has been leased out in just the last three years. The consequences for those who live in the way of the land grabbers are devastating. Since 2003, at least 400,000 people have been forced off their land, usually without consultation or compensation. Repression and violence against those who speak out is increasingly severe, as shown by the murder of activist Chut Wutty in April 2012 and the shooting of a 14 year old girl in a land eviction a month later. [Source: Global Witness]

Mu Sochua and Cecilia Wikström wrote in the New York Times: “An anti-logging activist is murdered, a teenage girl is shot and killed by police during a forcible eviction, 13 women are sentenced to up to two-and-a-half years in prison simply for holding a protest on land from which they’ve been expropriated. These are recent examples of the all-too-familiar human rights abuses that result from the Cambodian government’s disastrous land policy. [Source: Mu Sochua and Cecilia Wikström, Op-Ed piece, New York Times, July 18, 2012. Mu Sochua is a member of Parliament in Cambodia from the Sam Rainsy Party. Cecilia Wikström, of Sweden, is a member of the European Parliament.><]

“Investment in Cambodia’s agriculture sector is long overdue. But instead of passing reforms that would help the country’s many farmers and villagers better use their land — 80 percent of the total population is rural — the government has signed off almost 11,600 square miles of Cambodia’s arable land to investors, including major Chinese and Vietnamese companies and local firms with ties to the governing Cambodian People’s Party (C.P.P.). That’s more than two-thirds of all arable land in Cambodia, according to a senior adviser at the human rights group Licadho. What’s more, according to Amnesty International, in 2008 some 150,000 Cambodians were at risk of being evicted, meaning that some 420,000 Cambodians have been affected by evictions since 2003. ><

“There are also environmental consequences. National parks and wildlife sanctuaries are being turned into rubber plantations. The pristine forests of Botum Sakor National Park, in southwest Cambodia, are being destroyed so that a Chinese company can build a gambling and luxury resort. Prey Lang, an extensive evergreen and semi-evergreen forest in northern Cambodia, is under threat of deforestation as luxury wood is being cut down illegally and exported to Vietnam, sometimes with the assistance of Cambodian soldiers. “ ><

Private Property and Land Titles in Cambodia

Ownership of property among the rural Khmer was vested in the nuclear family. Descent and inheritance is bilateral. Legal children might inherit equally from their parents. The division of property was theoretically equal among siblings, but in practice the oldest child might inherit more. Each of the spouses might bring inherited land into the family, and the family might acquire joint land during the married life of the couple. Each spouse was free to dispose of his or her land as he or she chose. A will was usually oral, although a written one was preferred. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

Private ownership of land was abolished by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Such ownership was also not recognized by the Vietnam-backed PRK government, which for example, refused to support former owners when they returned and found others living on and working their land. Some peasants were able to remain on their own land during the Khmer Rouge era, however, and generally they were allowed to continue to work the land as if it were their own property. *

In the late 1980s, according to Cambodia scholar Michael Vickery, the PRK government planned to collectivize in three stages. The first stage involved allotting land to families at the beginning of the season and allowing the cultivators to keep the harvest. The second stage involved allotting land to each family according to the number of members. The families in the interfamily units known as solidarity groups (krom samaki) were to work to prepare the fields, but subsequently each family was responsible for the upkeep of its own parcel of land. At this stage, each family could dispose of its own produce. In the final stage, all labor was to be performed in common, and at the end of the season any remuneration was distributed according to a work point system. Livestock at this stage would still belong to the family. By 1984 the first stage groups accounted for 35 percent of the rural population, but the third level accounted for only 10 percent of the farms.

Until recently, Cambodia had no real a history of providing titles to land. As of 2000, three fourths of the land was not secured by titles and only 14 percent of the land was properly registered, with many of the claims being fraudulent. In many cases the untitled land is occupied by farmers whose families have occupied for generations and should have title to it but don’t. In other cases it occupied by squatters, wandering farmers, people who cleared the mines from it and large land owners.

Some landowners have obtained their land by hiring several hundred armed thugs with bulldozers and using them to drive off local farmers, tear down their huts and rip up their fields. Many times the landowners are powerful politicians or generals. One general who drove off some farmers from some land so he could build a casino said, “Go ahead and file your complaints. I don’t care. The guys at the top are my friends.”

Landowners have also hired thugs to throw grenades into crowds, fire B-40 rockets at buildings and cut off the heads of stubborn villagers, and even burning down homes occupied by war widows and disabled veterans.

Land Grabs in Cambodia and Economic Land Concessions (E.L.C.)

According LICADHO the government has granted more than 3.9 million hectares in development rights to companies, accounting for 22 percent of the country's entire land area. The rights reportedly were granted for development projects, including mines, rubber plantations, industrial parks and commercial facilities. Some were granted to Chinese and Vietnamese firms. [Source: Takeshi Fujitani, Asahi Shimbun, June 17, 2012]

The Guardian reported: “The massive transfer of natural resources has been accomplished mostly through Cambodia's economic land concession (ELC) scheme, in which the government leases large plots of land to companies that agree to farm them. Those evicted to make way for superfarms are entitled to compensation, but rarely get it. Cambodia's land title system is in shambles, and poor farmers rarely hold deeds for their land – even if they are legally entitled to them, based on possession rights.[Source: The Guardian, September 25, 2012 <>]

“Even a so-called moratorium on new ELCs in May has failed to stem the tide. International donors and civil society groups have long pushed for a ban, but since the moratorium, news of at least another 12 concessions, totalling more than 80,000 hectares, has emerged. The moratorium contains a little-noticed loophole – one so big that it swallows the ban itself. It allows the government to award ELCs that were "agreed in principle" prior to May. Of course, there is no public list of the ELCs "agreed in principle", so we simply have to take the government's word for it. In other words, it's business as usual – there's just a new gloss to distract confused foreign donors. <>

Mu Sochua and Cecilia Wikström wrote in the New York Times: “One major problem is the widespread grant of so-called Economic Land Concessions (E.L.C.). Under Cambodia’s 2001 Land Law, the government is allowed to make use of all “private state land” and lease up to about 25,000 acres to a company for as many as 99 years. The government has carved out some of the country’s best land one bit at a time, evicting many poor people for the commercial benefit of a few. The Asian Human Rights Commission has documented, for example, that in 2006 the private police force of Ly Yong Phat, a well-known senator from the C.P.P., with the assistance of police proper, had relocated dozens of families from land he had obtained through an E.L.C. in the southwestern province of Koh Kong to make way for a sugarcane field. [Source: Mu Sochua and Cecilia Wikström, Op-Ed piece, New York Times, July 18, 2012 ><]

“Economic Land Concessions deals are typically handled by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Council for the Development of Cambodia and then approved by the office of the prime minister, with little participation from the affected communities or the local authorities. Farmers only become aware of the transactions when construction companies come in to remove them, bulldozers and security guards in tow. ><

“The poor have few legal recourses against these abuses. The majority of Cambodians today do not possess official title to the land they live on, partly because under the Khmer Rouge regime, between 1975 and 1979, private property was abolished and the country’s land-titling system was destroyed. The 2001 Land Law does allow people to apply for official documents if they can clearly show that they occupied and used a plot of land for at least five years prior to 2001. But the application is time-consuming and expensive and well beyond the means of many. And without official documents, the poor who reside on desirable land become easy targets for the powerful and well-connected. ><

China and the Boeung Kak Lake Project

Andrew Higgins wrote in the Washington Post: “Of all the Cambodian controversies involving China, however, none has stirred as much public outrage as the development of Boeung Kak Lake, which had been one of Phnom Penh’s most cherished urban landmarks. Though badly polluted after decades of neglect, it still attracted throngs of people to its waterfront pathways, cafes and guesthouses.Today, the area is an eyesore — and an emblem of the damage wrought by Cambodia’s China-assisted dash for development. “The policy of the government is to cut poverty, but all these evictions only make people homeless and poor,” said Pung Chhiv Kek of Licadho. [Source: Andrew Higgins, Washington Post September 25, 2012 /\]

“Under the terms of a 99-year lease granted in Feb 2007 by Phnom Penh Municipality, a Cambodian company called Shukaku gained the right to turn the lake and a swath of surrounding land into a new residential and business district. Shukaku agreed to pay $79 million for 328 acres of prime real estate, far less than the market value of such a large piece of land in the center of the capital. /\

“The company is controlled by Lao Meng Khin, a wealthy senator for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and a close ally of Cambodia’s long-serving leader, Prime Minister Hun Sen. Shukaku executives declined to be interviewed. Government spokesman Phay Siphan said Boeung Kak Lake had been a smelly health hazard and needed to be turned into “a developed place.” After two false starts with Chinese companies, Shukaku’s effort now has the backing of Inner Mongolia Ordos Hong Jun Investment Corp., a joint venture between two Chinese entities. /\

“While workers moved in to drain the lake and pump in sand in 2008, armed police stood guard as most of the area’s more than 4,000 families — who were offered either land outside the city or modest cash payments — were ordered to leave. But hundreds of other residents, including Tep Vanny, refused to budge and began organizing protests. They also started writing letters to the Chinese Embassy. All went unanswered. But, in an interview with a state-owned Chinese newspaper, the embassy’s commercial attache, Jin Yuan, defended Chinese investors, saying they had played no role in evictions, which he said were solely the work of local authorities. /\

“After repeated clashes between residents and police, the World Bank announced in August 2011 that it would suspend lending to Cambodia until authorities halted the evictions and agreed to fair compensation. Stung by the mounting criticism, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered that part of the area leased to Shukaku be registered as the property of more than 700 families still living in the area. But protests continued, and authorities cracked down hard. In May of this year, Tep Vanny and a dozen other women were arrested during a rally near a cluster of demolished homes and sentenced to 21/2 years in prison for “illegally occupying public land.” /\

“The stiff sentences drew widespread condemnation and a plea for the women’s release from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Cambodia’s Appeal Court overturned the jail sentences. The crackdown, however, has since resumed, with two anti-eviction activists arrested early this month.

The future of the project, meanwhile, is mired in uncertainty. A high concrete wall has been erected around the sand-filled lake, but there is no sign of construction work. The sand is too soft to build on and could take up to a decade to settle sufficiently. Residents complain that draining of the lake has caused flooding during the rainy season and led to sewage leaking. Liu Xueming, an official with Ordos Hong Jun Investment in Phnom Penh, said he couldn’t discuss plans for the vanished lake. “This project is a little bit sensitive,” he said. /\

Victims of the Boeung Kak Eviction

Takeshi Fujitani wrote in the Asahi Shimbun: “Work began two years ago to fill in the lake, which lies adjacent to an area that is home to the prime minister's offices and luxury hotels so that commercial facilities and other structures could be built. Baton-wielding riot police closed off nearby roads and established an intimidating presence outside the regional court in the capital on the morning of May 24 as dozens of protesters gathered. More than 80 exiled inhabitants of Boeung Kak, a 90-hectare lake on the north side of the city, yelled repeatedly for the release of 13 former neighbors who were arrested two days earlier. [Source: Takeshi Fujitani, Asahi Shimbun, June 17, 2012]

“The residents were forcefully evicted. One of them, 41-year-old Sen Touch, had lived in a house built on stilts over the lake since 1979, along with her husband and their three children. The family of five earned $450 (about 36,000 yen) a month by renting out rooms. They refused to move because they were to be relocated at least 20 kilometers away. By November 2010, work got under way to fill in the lake. The family now lives in a rented home on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, relying on construction work paying 30,000 riels (about 600 yen) a day.

In response to repeated resident protests and a World Bank decision to freeze new loans to Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen last September ordered that 12 hectares of the reclaimed land be set aside for residential use. Eighteen families, including Sen Touch's, then tried to build temporary housing on the sand where their homes had once stood, but they were stopped by the authorities. Thirteen of her fellow residents were arrested and, two days later, they were sentenced to prison terms in unusually speedy proceedings. The authorities deemed Sen Touch and some of the other residents as squatters, and denied they had any right to reside there.

That's because a nearly two-decade civil war and the institutional reforms that followed slowed progress on land ownership and rights to residence, leaving many people in limbo. The government has no system in place to compensate residents for forced evictions.

Land Seizures in Cambodia

Reporting from Samrong district, Ellen Nakashima wrote in the Washington Post: “Kong Nem, 45, a widow whose left foot was blown off by a land mine in 1986, spoke of how excavators appeared one day in 2004 and cleared a 300-acre field that her village had farmed for years. The village chief and his Cambodian People's Party cronies had sold the tract to a company for an acacia tree farm, she said. The villagers took the matter to the provincial court, which suggested they be paid compensation. "We don't want money," she told the forum audience, nearly shouting. "We just want our land." [Source: Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post Foreign Service, March 10, 2006 #]

“Her village, a three-hour truck ride from the capital, is a collection of thatched huts with no electricity or running water. Seventy families once grew watermelons, beans, cauliflower and potatoes in the field. Now, she said, they face hunger. In desperation, about 100 villagers piled into two trucks and headed to the capital last July, Kong Nem said. They camped in front of the National Assembly. Two days later, the police ordered them to leave. When they refused, the police wielded electric batons, she said. "They shocked us," she recalled. "We lost consciousness. They threw us in the truck. It was so unjust." #

“Outside Sam Rainsy's party headquarters, dozens of villagers from several provinces have camped for days, seeking help in resolving land conflicts. They have come in threes and fours, hiding their mats and cooking pots in bags so the police would not arrest them on suspicion of plotting a protest.” #

See Land Grabbing Under Human Rights

Forced Evictions in Cambodia

Shibani Mahtani wrote in the Wall Street Journal: A mother of eight, Hoy Mai was five months pregnant when she was forcefully evicted from her house in northwest Cambodia in 2009, according to Amnesty International. Her village – once home to more than 150 families, some of whom are now homeless – is now a guarded sugar cane plantation surrounded by empty fields, the group says.

A villager in Sihanoukville, who lost her home in April 2007, told Amnesty International: “I lost my house, rice and belongings like clothes and utensils. All houses were burned down and destroyed by the excavator and the bulldozer. They kept good-condition corrugated steel and planks of wood for themselves. They even took water jars and looted our chickens and ducks. They never came to evict us like this before.” My house, possessions, clothes, all went up in smoke. Nothing was left.” [Source: Amnesty International, February, 11 2008 ==]

A forced eviction is ‘the permanent or temporary removal against the will of individuals, families and/or communities from the homes and/or land which they occupy, without the provision of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protection,’ according to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Forced evictions have been recognized by the UN Commission on Human Rights as a gross violation of human rights, and are also – as in the cases presented here – associated with other human rights violations. As a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and other international human rights treaties which prohibit forced eviction and related human rights violations, Cambodia has an obligation to stop forced evictions and to protect the population from forced evictions. ==

Amnesty International has said that forced evictions are one of the most widespread human rights violations affecting Cambodians in both rural and urban areas. As of 2008 at least 150,000 Cambodians across the country are known to live at risk of being forcibly evicted in the wake of land disputes, land grabbing and development projects. In sharp contrast to the rhetoric of the government’s pro-poor policies and in breach of international human rights laws and standards, thousands of people, particularly those living in poverty, have been forcibly evicted from their homes and lands, reveals a Amnesty International report, “Rights Razed – Forced evictions in Cambodia.” ==

The Cambodian authorities are not only failing to protect – in law and practice – the population against forced evictions, but are actively involved in these unlawful practices. “The authorities have been instrumental in demolishing villages, setting homes ablaze and making poor people homeless without due process and at the behest of those who wield economic and political power,” said Catherine Baber, Director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Programme. “It is clear that relevant laws are seldom and arbitrarily applied, and the authorities have not protected the human rights of people affected by forced evictions.” ==

“Rights Razed” shows how affected groups have had no opportunity for genuine consultation before eviction, received little or no information on planned evictions, and had no access to adequate alternative housing. In addition, they have been left with no recourse to justice. The cases presented in the report also show how, contrary to international human rights law, the authorities have opted for eviction long before all other alternatives have been explored. ==

Amnesty International calls on the Cambodian government to: 1) End all forced evictions and introduce a moratorium for all mass evictions until legislation and policy is put into place that requires any further evictions to be conducted in full compliance with international human rights laws and standards. 2) Ensure that those victimised by forced evictions have access to, at the very least, minimum essential levels of shelter, clean water, sanitation, health services and education, including through the provision of humanitarian assistance where necessary. 3) Abide by its obligations under international human right law to give those affected by eviction an opportunity for genuine participation and consultation.

Land Seizures Push Thousands of the Poor Into Homelessness in Cambodia

Reporting from Andong, near Phnom Penh, Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times: “When the monsoon rain pours through Mao Sein’s torn thatch roof, she pulls a straw sleeping mat over herself and her three small children and waits until it stops. She and her children sit on a low table as floodwater rises, bringing with it the sewage that runs along the mud paths outside their shack. [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, July 27, 2008]

Ms. Mao Sein, 34, was resettled by the government here in an empty field two years ago, when the police raided the squatters’ colony where she lived in Phnom Penh, the capital, 12 miles away.She is a widow and a scavenger. The area where she lives has no clean water or electricity, no paved roads or permanent buildings. But there is land to live on, and that has drawn scores of new homeless families to settle here, squatting among the squatters. With its shacks and its sewage, Andong looks very much like the refugee camps that were home to those who were forced from their homes by the brutal Communist Khmer Rouge three decades ago.

Like tens of thousands of people around the country, those living here are victims of what experts say has become the most serious human rights abuse in the country: land seizures that lead to evictions and homelessness. “Expropriation of the land of Cambodia’s poor is reaching a disastrous level,” Basil Fernando, executive director of the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong, a private monitoring group, said in December. “The courts are politicized and corrupt, and impunity for human rights violators remains the norm.”

With the economy on the rise, land is being seized for logging, agriculture, mining, tourism and fisheries, and in Phnom Penh, soaring land prices have touched off what one official called a frenzy of land grabs by the rich and powerful. The seizures can be violent, including late-night raids by the police and military. Sometimes, shanty neighborhoods burn down, apparently victims of arson. “They came at 2 a.m.,” said Ku Srey, 37, who was evicted with Ms. Mao Sein and most of their neighbors in June 2006. “They were vicious,” Ms. Ku Srey said of the police and soldiers who evicted her. “They had electric batons” — and she imitated the sound made by the devices: “chk-chk-chk-chk.” She said, “They pushed us into trucks, they threw all our stuff into trucks and they brought us here.”

In a report in February, Amnesty International estimated that 150,000 people around the country were now at risk of forcible eviction as a result of land disputes, land seizures and new development projects. These include 4,000 families who live around a lake in the center of Phnom Penh, Boeung Kak Lake, which is the city’s main catchment for monsoon rains and is being filled in for upscale development. “If these communities are forced to move, it would be the most large-scale displacement of Cambodians since the times of the Khmer Rouge,” said Brittis Edman, a researcher with Amnesty International, which is based in London.

From 1993 to 1999, Amnesty International said in its report in February 2008, the government granted commercial development rights for about one-third of the country’s most productive land for commercial development to private companies. In Phnom Penh from 1998 through 2003, the city government forced 11,000 families from their homes, the World Bank said in a statement quoted by Amnesty International. Since then, the human rights group said, evictions have reportedly displaced at least 30,000 more families. “One thing that is important to note is that the government is not only failing to protect the population, but we are also seeing that it is complicit in many of the forced evictions,” Ms. Edman, of Amnesty International, said.

Here in Andong, the people have adapted as best they can. Little by little, they have made their dwellings home, some of them decorating their shacks with small flower pots. A few have gathered enough money to buy concrete and bricks to pave their floors and reinforce their walls. But this home, like the ones they have known in the past, may only be temporary. The outskirts of Phnom Penh are only a few miles away. As the city continues to expand, aid workers say, the people here will probably be forced to move again,

Riots Erupt During Cambodia Slum Clearance

In May 2006, AFP reported: “Hundreds of Cambodians armed with farm tools and metal bars rioted through a Phnom Penh slum after a child was badly hurt by falling timber as authorities tried to pull down one of the squatter's homes. The mob attacked a security guard after he struck a pregnant woman, pelting him with stones and forcing him to flee into the nearby Tonle Bassac river, witnesses and rights workers in the slum said. The squatters also torched several buildings, including an administrative office, and tore apart a corrugated metal fence that authorities had put up earlier to contain the slum. The child, a girl under 12 years old, was brought unconscious to a nearby hospital. Her condition was unknown, but one rights worker described her as lingering "between death and life". [Source: AFP, May 31, 2006]

The slum has been a source of tension punctuated by violent outbursts for weeks as city authorities try to evict more than 1,000 families to clear the land for a private company to develop. Hundreds have refused to resettle on a site some 22 kilometers (13 miles) outside the capital, complaining that the land offered to them is unlivable and too far away from markets or work. Instead, the squatters have for weeks lived under crude shelters of plastic sheeting and bamboo poles amid the debris of their dismantled homes.

"We have no rice, my child is sick, the people are angry," said 40-year-old Sok Vanny, standing near the burning buildings as dozens of others carted away bits of woods and twisted metal. "We sleep in the dirt," she said. Another squatter, 30-year-old Meas Saroeun, complained of living in the open as the monsoon dumps daily torrents of rain over the settlement.

A senior district police official who did not want to be named said the squatters are breaking the law by not leaving the land, saying, "In short, they are bad people". He said he had no orders yet to send security forces into the slum. Rights groups have repeatedly complained about the forced resettlement, and two UN human rights experts on Tuesday took Cambodia to task over the slum clearance.

Hina Jilani, the UN's watchdog on abuses against human rights activists, and Miloon Kothari, its monitor on housing rights, called for a halt to the ongoing eviction. "Due to this process, several hundred families have already been rendered homeless and are now living in open air," they said in a joint statement. Several similar shanty towns mysteriously burned down in 2001, leading to speculation that they had been deliberately torched to clear real estate. Thousands of families were left homeless by the fires. Rampant corruption and a lack of credible land records -- most of which were originally destroyed by the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s -- have made land disputes increasingly common in Cambodia.

Combating Land Grabs in Cambodia

According to The Guardian: Recourse to the ELC “law is not an option. In fact, the law is often used against victims of land grabs, as in the case of the 13 women activists of the Boeung Kak lake community. They were arrested and convicted in May after taking part in a peaceful demonstration over a land dispute land dispute that led to the forcible eviction of more than 3,500 families. The women were released in June after international outcry, but three months later, two more land activists – including another Boeung Kak community leader – were arrested...The first step would be to call for the loophole in the ELC moratorium to be closed – before more Cambodians are marginalised and it becomes too late. Only when this is done can the country begin its long journey towards transparency and fairness in land rights. [Source: The Guardian, September 25, 2012 <>]

“For the average Cambodian, the only avenues that offer the prospect of success are public protest and individual action. The government is well aware of the desperation, and this fact helps explain the recent spate of arrests, killings and harassment. The authorities are increasingly using violence to keep a lid on things. If evictees don't go peacefully, private firms are willing and able to tap the resources of the state to forcefully capture land. <>

Mu Sochua and Cecilia Wikström wrote in the New York Times: “One of the only means of resistance is public protest. But that often brings more abuses still. In 2009, the residents around Boeung Kak Lake in central Phnom Penh were forcibly evicted to make way for a vast luxury development operated by a joint venture involving a company owned by a senator. There was so much bad press about the deal that last year, under pressure from NGOs, the World Bank suspended loans to Cambodia. The government then ordered that about 30 acres of the confiscated land be returned to the 900 families who had refused to accept the inadequate compensation. But the Cambodian authorities have refused to determine the exact area to be returned, so residents continue to protest, despite arrests and the threat of detention.[Source: Mu Sochua and Cecilia Wikström, Op-Ed piece, New York Times, July 18, 2012 ><]

“Local NGOs, Cambodian legislators and the media all have a part to play in stopping these abuses through advocacy. But as the World Bank’s intervention last year shows, foreign governments and international organizations can also help. Some members of the Cambodian Parliament (including one of the authors) have called on the U.S. government to temporarily suspend aid to the Cambodian military until a full review of E.L.C. is conducted and compensation is paid to affected communities. (We have been unsuccessful so far.) ><

“We also call on the European Union to suspend some features of its Everything but Arms (E.B.A.) initiative, which grants duty-free access to products from many developing countries, including Cambodia. Though the E.B.A. program was designed to help poor countries by stimulating their exports, it has had some unintended downsides. In Cambodia, it suddenly revived sugar production, which had been halted since the 1970s, by turning sugarcane into a high-demand crop. As a result, according to the Cambodian NGO Adhoc and others, E.L.C. for sugarcane production have claimed farmland throughout Cambodia, leaving many people landless. ><

As of 2012, the Cambodia government has arrested two innocent women, Yorm Bopha and Tim Sakmony, for protesting against the forced eviction at the Boeung Kak Lake along with many other activists. The two are facing charges that are not related to the protest. Cambodia's people are also trying to send out a message to U.S. President, Barack Obama. Eight villagers of Phnom Penh were arrested for painting "SOS" and plastering Obama's picture on their rooftops. Police deemed their actions as illegal. Earlier in the year, the villagers were told to leave their homes so that a nearby airport will be able to build a larger runway and security buffer zone. For nearly 30 years, powerful companies are able to evict people forcibly. [Source: Wikipedia]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism of Cambodia, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

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