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Govt’s land policy failing most vulnerable: report

Govt’s land policy failing most vulnerable: report

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Chab Bunleang, 49, who lives along rail lines in the north of Phnom Penh in a home she said she has owned for two decades, belongs to one of 23 households facing eviction. Three families have agreed to government compensation since last week.

VULNERABLE communities are still being subjected to land-tenure insecurity and forced displacement despite a seven-year, multimillion-dollar effort to reform the land sector, according to a report to be released today.

The report, produced by a coalition of local and international housing rights groups, says the donor-funded US$38.4 million Land Management and Administration Project (LMAP) has failed the country’s poor by “entrenching inequality”, signalling a potentially dark future for land rights in Cambodia.

LMAP was established in 2002 with funding from international donors including the World Bank with a goal of establishing an “efficient and transparent land administration system” within five years.

The 81-page report acknowledges that the project has notched up some significant achievements, including issuing legal titles for more than 1 million pieces of land nationwide, but it argues that sporadic successes have been overshadowed by an increase in forced evictions and the project’s failure to protect those most vulnerable to exploitation.

“Despite significant successes in some areas, LMAP is not improving tenure security for segments of Cambodian society that are most vulnerable to displacement,” the report states.

“Vulnerable groups that have legitimate claims to land are routinely and arbitrarily denied access to land-titling and dispute-resolution mechanisms, which undermines the project’s aim of reducing poverty and promoting social stability.”

A key defect identified by the report is the fact that LMAP’s land-titling system has excluded areas that are “likely to be disputed” or of “unclear status”, cutting tens of thousands of families off from access to land titles under the Kingdom’s 2001 Land Law.

The area around Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak lake, where more than 4,000 families have been unable to apply for land titles because the lake lies in a “development zone”, is cited as a key example. It also expresses concerns for the protection of indigenous land rights and argues that LMAP’s land-dispute resolution mechanism has failed to create a “fairly accessible, efficient and impartial” means of resolving conflicts.

“If the system continues to exclude vulnerable groups, the benefits of the programme will be overshadowed by the harms,” said David Pred, country director of international rights group Bridges Across Borders, which contributed to the report.

“The experience of LMAP has demonstrated that many of the intended benefits of titling do not materialise in the absence of the rule of law and functioning dispute-resolution mechanisms to protect people’s rights.”

Yeng Virak, executive director of the Community Legal Education Centre, said LMAP’s land-registration drive had made significant achievements, but that the project is restricted by the “rigidity” of its design and implementation.

Particularly, he said, the fact that LMAP’s land-titling programme is not carried out in at-risk areas means that many strong legal claims – including those from Phnom Penh’s

Boeung Kak, Group 78 and Dey Krahorm areas – had not been rewarded with land titles.

“[The] existing legal instruments are sufficient,” he said. “Their possession rights should be recognised and respected.”

Land Management Minister Im Chhun Lim could not be reached for comment Sunday, but Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun rejected the contents of the report, saying dispute-resolution mechanisms at district and provincial levels had been successfully enforced by governors.

“Both bodies have helped balance the work so that it is better and … responds to the people’s need more effectively. This is [an example of]
good governance,” he told the Post.

Rights groups on Sunday expressed fears the successor programmes to LMAP – the Land Administration Sub-Sector Programme and Land Management Sub-Sector Programme – will do little to improve the situation.

“We hope to see both development partners and the government do a better job of fulfilling their responsibilities under the successor programmes,” said Natalie Bugalski, a legal officer from the Centre of Housing Rights and Evictions, which also contributed to the report.
Pred said the success of future programmes relied on more than the good intentions of one or two stakeholders.

“The most serious problems that we document in the report are beyond the capacity of LMAP and the Ministry of Land to address, and require better interministerial cooperation and political will that has so far been sorely lacking,” he said.

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