Ongoing land confiscation by military and government officials is creating an
underclass that threatens Cambodia's still fragile peace and stability, warns
Peter Leuprecht, Special Representative of the Cambodian Office of the UN High
Commissioner for Human Rights.
UN Special Representative Peter Leuprecht
Leuprecht, who on June 28 ended his third
investigative trip to Cambodia since his appointment in October 2000, said that
land confiscation and demobilization will be the focus of his forthcoming second
report for UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on Cambodia's human rights
"If this country can't settle these problems - the practice of
land grabbing - there is serious potential for social unrest because these
[landless peasants] have nothing to lose," Leuprecht told the Post in a June 28
interview. "It's always dangerous to have people in a society who have nothing
Human rights organizations have documented multiple incidents
in recent years in which farmers have had their land forcibly confiscated by the
Cambodian military. The confiscated land is routinely sold for development and
the peasants left homeless, landless, and often destitute on the streets of
To get a first-hand look at the problem of land-grabbing,
Leuprecht made a two-day trip to Banteay Meanchey province's border town of
Poipet, whose numerous casinos have reportedly been built on land confiscated
from peasant farmers.
"What you see in Poipet is the development of a
wild and brutal capitalism," Leuprecht said of the human rights situation in and
around the border town. "These casinos are very often built on land which poor
people have been evicted from."
While briefing Prime Minister Hun Sen on
the problem of land-grabbing, Leuprecht said Hun Sen admitted that he was aware
of the involvement of government officials in illegal land
"I added that the military was also involved," Leuprecht
According to Leuprecht, ending land-grabbing required addressing
what he called "the four evils afflicting Cambodian society - poverty, violence,
corruption and lawlessness".
Leuprecht emphasisied that donors shared his
analysis of those "evils" and expected results in return for the record $615
million in aid awarded Cambodia at the June 11-13 Tokyo CG meeting.
donor community has been quite generous and the [Cambodian] government has
gotten more than it expected," Leuprecht said, adding that one of the main
recommendations of his first UN report was that foreign aid to Cambodia be
increased. " But on the other hand, it's very clear that donor governments want
to see results. I think donor countries will judge by results and in the long
term won't be helpful if promises of reform are unfulfilled."
long-delayed memorandum extending the mandate of the COHCHR was not signed
during Leuprecht's visit, he praised the government for its "mature" response to
his first report and by what he described as a "very constructive" meeting with
Prime Minister Hun Sen. Hun Sen announced that he was "too busy" to meet with
Leuprecht during his last visit in February.
"Maybe [the government]
recognizes that although I'm critical I'm objective and I don't hide at all my
relationship with donors so [improved relations with the Cambodian government]
may be a result of political realism," Leuprecht said.
"Part of COHCHR's
role has been that of a watchdog, not a lapdog, and watchdogs aren't always
liked by those they watch."