Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Local leaders' mediation powers decline

Local leaders' mediation powers decline

Local leaders' mediation powers decline

A UN report has found that the powers of village chiefs to solve local disputes have

been diminished by decades of war and upheaval.

Although the causes of local conflicts have remained the same for decades - land

issues, domestic quarrels and arguments with neighbors - people now have less fear

and respect for local leaders, which means the decisions they hand down are more

likely to be ignored.

"The power and respect associated with fear that used to be granted to the village

chief are gradually fading," states the report from the UN Educational, Scientific

and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). "Indeed, the village chief has less ways

of putting pressure on the population."

Anthropologist Fabienne Luco, who wrote the report, Between a tiger and a crocodile,

said the number of disputes was increasing, and in particular those related to land.

What had not changed, though, was the traditional method of saving face by using

conciliation, rather than 'right-wrong' decisions.

Luco said one effect was that in domestic violence cases, some women were unable

to get divorced because the traditional method promoted conciliation, which forced

them to stay in abusive situations. That was compounded in rural areas by mistrust

of the courts, which have the power to divorce couples.

"So what happens is some women continue to be beaten," she said. "The

commune chief can make [the man] sign a letter promising not to do it again, but

[the chief] cannot judge, because this is conciliation.

"Many times there are problems that should be solved in the courts - like domestic

violence or a women wanting a divorce - but commune and village chiefs try to stop

the women from going to court because it is a question of [them] losing face,"

Luco said. "A good chief is one who says, 'There is no problem in my area'."

Sandy Feinzig, a consultant at the Cambodian Women's Crisis Center, agreed that village

chiefs tried to prevent women seeking divorces in the courts for that reason, and

said women were intimidated by courts.

"Particularly in rural areas there is no other recourse but local methods -

either going to village chiefs or monks or an elder," Feinzig said. "In

the city there is also reluctance to go to court because the process is very slow,

very tedious, there is a high level of corruption, and lack of implementation of

judgment."

UNESCO's report found that in the 'traditional' period before 1970, people respected

village leaders and elders, and heeded their advice.

Religious principles and folk wisdom also prevented conflict, and people were expected

to remain silent if they had problems so as to not disturb the social order.

"Scattered family units live in dread of upsetting the supernatural forces that

protect the established order and in constant worry of being bothered by the local

government representatives," the report noted of that period.

However after the upheavals of the Lon Nol and Khmer Rouge regimes, high levels of

mistrust made returning to the traditional system much more difficult.

"There was still fear of the authorities, and if you didn't have good connections

with authorities you kept [problems] inside," said Luco.

Over the past ten years, the concepts of human rights and democracy have spread,

which combined with economic development and the end of war, meant local leaders

have less power to intervene using traditional methods of mediation.

Luco said the combination of factors had led to an inconsistent approach by village

chiefs, who needed training so that people would again trust their decisions. That

was one recomendation of the report.

"Usually poorly educated, the conciliators are little equipped to carry out

their task, and often remain powerless when confronted to new situations, particularly

in the case of land-related disputes," it stated.

The report recommends that the government and NGOs provide training on law, conciliation

and arbitration techniques for village and commune chiefs, police and masters of

ceremonies. It was issued to NGOs and human rights groups following International

Human Rights Day on December 10.

MOST VIEWED

  • NY sisters inspired by Khmer heritage

    Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Cambodian-American sisters Edo and Eyen Chorm have always felt a deep affinity for their Cambodian heritage and roots. When the pair launched their own EdoEyen namesake jewellery brand in June, 2020, they leaned heavily into designs inspired by ancient Khmer

  • Cambodia records first Omicron community case

    The Ministry of Health on January 9 reported 30 new Covid-19 cases, 29 of which were imported and all were confirmed to be the Omicron variant. The ministry also reported 11 recoveries and no new deaths. Earlier on January 9, the ministry also announced that it had detected the Kingdom's

  • The effects of the USD interest rate hike on Cambodian economy

    Experts weigh in on the effect of a potential interest rate expansion by the US Federal Reserve on a highly dollarised Cambodia Anticipation of the US Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike in March is putting developing economies on edge, a recent blog post by

  • PM eyes Myanmar peace troika

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has suggested that ASEAN member states establish a tripartite committee or diplomatic troika consisting of representatives from Cambodia, Brunei and Indonesia that would be tasked with mediating a ceasefire in Myanmar. The premier also requested that Nippon Foundation chairman Yohei Sasakawa

  • Kampot tourism quay ‘90% done’

    Construction on Kampot International Tourism Port – a 4ha quay in Teuk Chhou district about 6km west of Kampot town – has fallen off track, reaching 90 per cent completion, according to a senior Ministry of Tourism official last week. The project is now planned to be finished

  • Demining rat ‘hero’ Magawa dead at 8

    A landmine-hunting rat that was awarded a gold medal for heroism for clearing ordnance from the Cambodian countryside has died, his charity said on January 11. Magawa, a giant African pouched rat originally from Tanzania, helped clear mines from about 225,000sqm of land – the equivalent of 42