FORCED evictions, land grabs and the prosecution of activists are “serious” issues that continue to stifle basic human rights in the Kingdom, according to a report released by Amnesty International on Friday.
Amnesty International’s annual human rights report stated that while communities affected by land disputes had held more protests last year, citizens who fought for housing rights had faced violence and legal action.
“Activists and human rights defenders protecting the right to adequate housing faced legal action and imprisonment on spurious charges,” the report said.
Rights organisations yesterday supported the report’s findings.
Ouch Leng, director of the land programme at rights group Adhoc, said yesterday that 202 land disputes involving 25,796 families were recorded in the Kingdom in 2010, along with 23 cases of forced eviction.
“The companies cooperate with local authorities and deploy police in the villages and say that the land belongs to the company,” he said, adding that in some instances violence had been used against villagers.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said yesterday that increasing numbers of protests showed that Cambodians had no other avenues for resolution.
“I see it as an organising strategy but I also see it as a failure of other mechanisms to resolve these disputes and that calls into question the fundamental independence of the Cambodian judiciary,” he said.
Amnesty International’s report highlighted the planned eviction of more than 4,000 families living around the Boeung Kak lakeside in Phnom Penh and the prosecution of opposition leader Sam Rainsy for uprooting demarcation posts on the Cambodia-Vietnam border as examples of human rights abuses.
“[Boeung Kak] has brought what the rural people of Cambodia have faced in land grabs into the centre of Phnom Penh,” Phil Robertson said.
Sia Phearum, secretariat director of local NGO Housing Rights Task Force, said yesterday that there was no rule of law in forced evictions.
“Private companies that are close to the leaders can get land concessions easily without competition or public consultation,” he said.
The Amnesty report also highlighted that some disputes were connected with economic land concessions granted to “powerful companies and individuals”.
The government, however, defended existing methods of conflict resolution.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday that people were not using the court system in land disputes.
“If everyone feels that there is a case of abuse, go to court,” he said. “Why don’t they use the system?”
He then claimed that police had to “maintain law and order” at protests.
Ea Bunthoeun, deputy chief of the land dispute resolution committee at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction declined to comment yesterday.
Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth could not be reached for comment yesterday.