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Courts systematically used to ‘threaten’ villagers, NGOs say

Courts systematically used to ‘threaten’ villagers, NGOs say

The government failed to evaluate social and environmental impacts before granting economic land concessions to private companies, while officials and company staff used the courts to intimidate residents during land disputes, representatives of NGOs said at a conference in the capital yesterday.

“The courts are not independent, so . . .  [companies] use the courts as a tool for taking over villagers’ land and charging villagers with destroying public property or using violence,” Seng Sokheng, a representative from the NGO network Community Peace Building Network, told the National Advocacy conference.

He said he had recorded about 100 cases across the country in which companies that were granted concessions had filed complaints against affected villagers.

Representatives of the rights group Adhoc told the Post this week that data from government sub-decrees and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries revealed that since 2008, 222 private companies had received economic land concessions from the government that totalled more than two million hectares.

“[Authorities and companies] use the court system to threaten human-rights defenders by detaining them in prison and releasing them if they agree to stop filing complaints,” Ny Chankrya, the head of Adhoc’s land rights and natural resources program, said. Chhit Khorn, a villager from Kampong Chhnang province embroiled in a land dispute with KDC International, said authorities never found resolutions for villagers who filed complaints.

KDC International is owned by Chea Kheng, the wife of Industry, Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem.

Appeal Court deputy director Seng Sovutha said that all citizens had equal rights under the law.

Thuk Kroeun Vutha, secretary of state at the Ministry of Environment, could not be reached for comment yesterday, but he told the Post last month that environmental and social impacts were assessed before land concessions were granted.

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