Brittis Edman (L) of Amnesty International talks to a member of the Dai Krahom community in Phnom Penh on February 11.
Forced evictions in Cambodia have once again been thrust into the spotlight following the release of two damning reports from international rights groups.
London-based Amnesty International’s report Rights Razed: Forced Evictions in Cambodia was released on February 11 at Phnom Penh’s most celebrated at-risk community, Dai Krahom.
This community has no fewer than 20 different organizations working on it, and is the subject of at least three documentaries.
The second of the two reports released was by the International Federation for Human Rights. This highlighted the weakness of Cambodia’s institutional framework and reiterated long standing concerns that “members of the ruling elites utilize the instruments of the state for personal enrichment with deplorable consequences for the already marginalized populations.”
One of the common factors which ties land grabbing and forced evictions together is that they all affect already marginalized communities.
Over the past ten years, in Phnom Penh alone 100,000 people have lost their homes and another 70,000 are facing eviction, according to local rights group Licadho.
Brittis Edman, author of the Amnesty International report, said the number of potential evictees across Cambodia is rising.
“If you have 150,000 people [across Cambodia] at risk of eviction, it appears the situation is escalating,” Edman, told the Post. “It is certainly a cause for concern in terms of rising instability.”
But a number of senior government officials have publicly stated there are no forced evictions in Cambodia. On February 14, the Amnesty International report was dismissed as “superfluous” in a press release from Cambodia’s ambassador to Great Britain.
“Just to point out that Cambodia is not Zimbabwe,” the statement read. “Your researcher should also spend more time to examine cases of land and housing rights violations in this country, if she really dares.”
The two reports, and input from other NGOs, suggest that forced evictions are becoming part of the Kingdom’s landscape.
“Ratanakkiri is another province that is out of control,” said Pen Buna, a monitor for local rights group Adhoc in Banlung. “The land here is very valuable and high ranking officials are just thinking about making money. The victims are the poor.”
The experience of Sav Tuel, of Kong Yu village in O’Yadao district, Ratanakkiri, testifies to the presence and violence of forced evictions.
“Two men on a motorbike came up and one started slapping and kicking me with no provocation,” Sav Tuel said. “Now, all the villagers are scared to go out at all, even just to farm, as we are all wondering who will be next.”
In Laeun Krem village, Ratanakkiri, deputy village chief Keo Lonh said wealthy land speculators have been taking the community’s land hectare by hectare and locals are fearful of where this will lead.
“We all just know where the borders of our land are, we know where it starts and stops, there are natural lines of demarcation and they have been the same for many generations,” he said.
“The village is growing as we have many children but our land is shrinking – it is a very bad situation. We will never sell our land because we are thinking about the future and we know money we get for our land will be spent quickly and then we will have no land left.”
Keo said that three years ago Ministry of Interior officials came to the area and told the villagers they would receive proper land titles.
“So far there has not been any titling and our land continues to be grabbed by all people from outside,” he said.
David Pred, founder of Bridges Across Borders pointed out that the vast majority of Cambodians do not have title to their land.
He said the possession rights enshrined in Article 30 of the Land Law for individuals who peacefully occupied land for five years prior to the law’s promulgation are “consistently ignored.”
“The result has been that these communities are getting forcibly evicted without fair and just compensation,” Pred said.