Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Land activists ‘under threat’

Land activists ‘under threat’

A mourner attends a memorial service for slain forest activist Chut Wutty in Prey Veng province in April 2013
A mourner attends a memorial service for slain forest activist Chut Wutty in Prey Veng province in April 2013. Heng Chivoan

Land activists ‘under threat’

Cambodian land advocates face some of the most threatening and deadly working conditions in the world, according to a new report by UK-based environmental watchdog Global Witness.

Since 2002, 908 reported killings linked to land activism have occurred across 35 countries – with 13 taking place in Cambodia – and that number has been climbing in the last four years, the report, Deadly Environment, reveals.

Land disputes, shrinking natural resources and a culture of impunity are tied to the reported intimidation and killings of land activists recorded in the Kingdom, said Alice Harrison, a communications adviser for Global Witness.

“Of the reported killings that our research uncovered, the highest concentration in Southeast Asia was in the Philippines, with 67. But with 13 killings, Cambodia’s death toll is certainly significant, behind Thailand with 16,” Harrison said, adding that Cambodia ranked ninth of 35 countries.

Violence stemming from land disputes in Cambodia is highlighted in the report with the inclusion of 14-year-old Heng Chantha’s death in Kratie province in 2012. The girl was shot by security forces during an eviction mere weeks after the slaying of prominent anti-logging activist Chut Wutty.

But the cycle of violence will continue unabated as long as senior politicians keep being linked to logging cartels, warned Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia.

“Corrupt land dealings can be traced back to our politicians and our military officials
. . . This will keep happening until a real commitment is made to end this cycle of impunity by our leaders,” Kol said.

The spokesman for the Ministry of Land Management, Beng Hong Socheat Khemro, and military police spokesman Kheng Tito could not be reached for comment yesterday, but Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak downplayed the report’s findings and allegations.

“I think that environmentalists and land defenders are not under threat in Cambodia, and the report’s link to land grabbing and land disputes [and] companies [being related] to the killing and intimidation of environmentalists is not true,” Sopheak said.

However, it was the fatal shooting of Wutty – one of the most high-profile killings of an activist in Cambodia since unionist Chea Vichea was slain in 2004 – that inspired Global Witness to investigate the realities land activists face on the ground in Cambodia.

Chut Wutty, one of Cambodia’s most outspoken activists against illegal logging, was shot dead on April 26, 2012, after military police stopped his vehicle in Koh Kong province. While the details leading up to Wutty’s death remain unclear, it is known that he was shot by a military police officer while investigating a company’s involvement in illegal logging.

Wutty’s son, Chheuy Oddom Rasmey, said he is not scared of the threats and harassment and will continue his father’s efforts “to protect the environment and natural resources of Cambodia for the future”.

MOST VIEWED

  • NagaWorld casinos set to reopen, schools to follow

    NAGACORP Ltd has requested that it be allowed to reopen its NagaWorld integrated resorts in Phnom Penh after the government recently approved casinos to operate again, provided they follow Covid-19 prevention measures set by the Ministry of Health. Mey Vann, the director-general of the Ministry

  • ASEM supports Kingdom’s proposal to postpone meeting amid Covid

    The 13th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM13) scheduled to be held in Cambodia in November has been postponed until mid-2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation press statement released on Saturday said. The decision was made during a two-day meeting

  • Coffee maker roasted for producing fake product

    The Ministry of Interior’s Counter Counterfeit Committee will send a suspect to court on Monday after she allegedly roasted coffee mixed with soybeans and other ingredients, creating a product which could pose a high risk to consumers’ health. On the afternoon of July 2, the

  • Cambodia armed with money laundering laws

    Money laundering will now carry a penalty of up to five years in prison while those convicted of financing terrorists will be jailed for up to 20 years, according to new laws promulgated by King Norodom Sihamoni and seen by The Post on Thursday. Comprising nine

  • Schools to be reopened in ‘three stages’

    With guidance from Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, is in the process of reopening schools in three stages. But no timeline has been set, ministry spokesperson Ros Soveacha said on Thursday. Soveacha said the first stage will be to

  • Thai border crossings eased

    The Cambodian Embassy in Thailand said in an announcement on Wednesday that Thailand’s government has allowed certain passengers from several countries to enter its borders. The visitors must go back to their country immediately after their duties in Thailand are fulfilled, the embassy said.

  • Gov’t says tourism recovers slightly despite pandemic

    The Ministry of Tourism and the Phnom Penh municipal administration have recognised 33 tourism businesses in the capital which have consistently implemented safety measures for tourists and adhered to the code of conduct issued by the ministry. Recently, the ministry announced that tourism businesses had to

  • Mull ASEAN border opening, PM urges

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has requested that ASEAN launch a scenario for gradually reopening cross-border travel and trade between countries in the region. He said ASEAN has had more success combating Covid-19 compared to other regions. The prime minister’s request was made at the

  • Ministry reports 11 new Covid-19 cases, reiterates vigilance

    Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng has urged people to continue practising virus prevention techniques after 11 people tested positive for Covid-19 within two days after arriving in the Kingdom. Speaking on Sunday, Bun Heng stressed the importance of washing hands, wearing masks or scarves when

  • Koh Rong land ‘belongs to firm’

    Preah Sihanouk Provincial Administration spokesperson Kheang Phearum told The Post on Sunday that the 35ha being bulldozed by Royal Group Co Ltd in Koh Rong belongs to it after it was leased to it for 99 years by the government in 2008. Phearum said the land does