Land certificates handed out by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s youth volunteers have been seized by local authorities in some parts of the country and sold on to companies, a forum on land rights was told yesterday, amid reports of rising numbers of land conflicts.
Speaking at the forum, Ky Chanra, a resident of Battambang province’s Bavel district, said youth volunteers had measured his land and produced a certificate, but the company continued to occupy the land as it had done since 2005.
“What is strange is now I have a land title, but I have no land,” he said.
Yesterday’s meeting served as the launch of Cambodia: Land in Conflict, a report on land use published yesterday by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR).
The report describes the volunteer-led titling program as ineffective, claiming that by and large the scheme has not sought to help communities affected by land disputes and that activists campaigning for the communities have been regularly arrested.
“People in Pursat province’s Krokor district were granted land titles after the borders were demarcated by the students in December 2012. But the Pheapimex Company still continued occupying the land,” the report said.
Hun Sen in June 2012 launched the land-titling scheme to be implemented by youth volunteers. Its mandate was to cover areas where families live without proper legal documentation on state land.
The scheme was halted on June 11 ahead of the elections, and a scaled-down version of the program was restarted last month.
Despite receiving modest praise from some, the scheme has come under criticism over allegations that land which the youth volunteers have measured has fallen into dispute, as companies have moved in after the fact, despite the government saying it would not measure disputed land.
Thong Pha, from Kampong Speu province, said that while she was initially glad that youth volunteers were measuring her land, the feeling soon faded when the authorities stepped in and sold her papers to companies who wished to exploit the land.
“They seized our certificates and then sold them to the companies. So I would like to ask the government to help us to get my land back, because I have lived in the area since the Khmer Rouge,” she said.
Pha added that when her community protested the alleged theft of her land, the authorities brought in soldiers and bulldozers and demolished eight houses.
“Our lives are extremely difficult and our children no longer go to school because they are busy protecting the land,” she said.
As the political stalemate has continued post-election, land disputes have multiplied, representatives of CCHR, the Community Legal Education Center and Cambodian Humanitarian Organization told attendees at yesterday’s conference. Companies and powerful individuals with political connections continued to seize people’s lands, ignoring even government attempts at intervention, they said.
“The competent authorities play a compromising role to transfer people’s land to the companies. Some local authorities are threatening to take the land-measuring leaflets given by the volunteer students,” a letter signed by the forum’s organisers reads.
Thirty-three land disputes in 17 provinces have been recorded by members at the forum, which included more than 200 representatives from affected communities, civil society groups and political parties.
Vann Sophath, land reform project coordinator of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said legal protections in Cambodia remained theoretical.
“In practice, the poor implementation of the law allows for insecurity of tenure, unregulated development and forced evictions, thereby negatively impacting a growing number of victims,” he said, adding that the government should halt all evictions.
While land rights are relatively well protected in Cambodian law, ambiguous land policies and poor implementation of laws have led to a sharp increase in conflicts between Cambodians and land concessionaires, the report says.
“Corruption, cronyism and a lack of real political will,” has led to “an environment of unregulated development characterized by a lack of transparency, consultation and planning”, it says, adding that violence surrounding land disputes is particularly affecting women, children and indigenous people.
Spokesmen from the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction could not be reached.