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Human cost of land concessions high: UN special rapporteur


Surya Subedi (C) visits the Borei Keila community in Phnom Penh in May. Photograph: Meng Kimlong/Phnom Penh Post

Surya Subedi (C) visits the Borei Keila community in Phnom Penh in May. Photograph: Meng Kimlong/Phnom Penh Post

A mission to examine political rights in Cambodia has been increasingly overshadowed by the Kingdom’s dire land rights situation, the 2012 report from Cambodia’s UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights, published yesterday, shows.

Cambodia’s rapporteur, Surya Subedi, conducted two fact-finding missions to Cambodia in drafting his 2012 report, and prepared an addendum of findings on the impact of economic land concessions to be published next month.

“The absence, in many instances, of proper consultation and negotiation with the people affected when granting such concessions has been a major concern,” the special rapporteur writes.

The “human cost of such concessions has been high”, he continues, explaining the addendum will provide an analysis and recommendations to “counter the negative impact of those concessions on the lives of Cambodians, especially the rural poor, indigenous peoples and those living on the margins of society”.

Subedi details the plight of two high-profile Phnom Penh evictions, Boeung Kak lake and Borei Keila, opining that “land disputes and forced evictions continue unabated in Cambodia”.

Of Boeung Kak, the Leeds University professor states, “the case is emblematic of the desperation that communities throughout Cambodia feel in resolving their land disputes, and ensuing civil unrest”.

Writing of the Borei Keila eviction, whose evicted residents Subedi visited in May, he describes the communities languishing in “uninhabitable resettlement sites” and “causing further impoverishment and threatening the country’s chances of improving its gross domestic product per capita”.

“Most significantly, the Special Rapporteur is concerned that the events demonstrated an inability on the part of those involved to settle disputes peacefully and a resort to force by authorities and communities alike,” Subedi reports.

“Nevertheless, the Special Rapporteur is of the view that land concessions should be granted and managed within a sound legal and policy framework that includes respect for human rights, especially the rights of indigenous peoples, the rural poor and those living on the margins of society,” Subedi writes.

Subedi said Cambodia has benefited from recommendations to improve human and political rights made by various bilateral and multilateral agencies, but it was “regrettable” that most of the recommendations remain unimplemented.

He welcomed the decision to delay the passage of the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations in favour of further stakeholder consultation, however also noting that continued impermissible restrictions on freedom of expression have “resulted in a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Cambodia”, encouraging self-censorship provoked by fear of prosecution.
In particular, he highlights the risks faced by human rights defenders in the face of an upward trend of the use of live ammunition.

“The Special Rapporteur is shocked by these crimes, for which no one has been convicted,” he writes, in reference to a shootings at a TTY land dispute in January, at a February labour protest in Bavet, the April murder of environmental activist Chut Wutty, and the May land protest shooting in Kratie that killed a 14-year-old girl.

As well as in the context of land evictions, Subedi examined the role of state institutions in the context of elections and political rights.

The problem, he writes, lies in the inadequate implementation of laws and the “genuine or perceived” lack of independence.

“The Special Rapporteur welcomes the assurances that he received that the Government would be instructing all civil servants, police and military personnel that they should not participate in any political activities while working in their official capacities,” the Nepalese national writes.

In a press statement on Friday from a meeting of the Council of Ministers, the government said that under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen, it has focused on “promoting [the] rights and dignity of people” and has implemented international agreements and conventions in accordance with national and international laws.

The statement said that seven reports have been sent by the government to the UN Human Rights Committee, including reports on torture, elimination of discrimination against women and child rights. These reports, along with Subedi’s report, will be delivered to the Human Rights Council in Geneva for review.

This government report is the second report created by the Cambodian Human Rights Commission under the leadership of Om Yentieng.

“Although faced with a world economic crisis, protecting Cambodia’s sovereignty against foreign invasion, natural disaster … [the] Cambodian government can keep economic growth in 7.1 per cent in 2011,” the press release said, touting the government’s success at fostering peace and stability.

“The government has provided land title [to] people totalling about 2.7 millions plots of land by May 2012,” the statement said.

“Especially, the deep land reform campaign, which is historically called ‘new action in old politics’ since May 2012, for rural villagers has seen that at least 350,000 families will get ownership to types of forest land concession, economic land concession and state land [totalling about] 1.2 million hectares.”

Yentieng could not be reached.

To contact the reporters on this story: Bridget Di Certo at
Chhay Channyda at



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