Mechanisms to resolve land disputes have been at best ineffective and at worst used as tools against those most vulnerable to rights abuses, rights groups said Thursday.
Speaking at the launch of a new report on land rights, Ny Chakrya, monitoring head for the rights group Adhoc, singled out the National Authority for the Resolution of Land Disputes and the court system as "mechanisms that have not helped the affected people".
He said land-rights abuses were likely to continue, particularly in light of the government's use of the courts to silence protesters. "The courts have been used to solve land disputes by putting people who complain in prison," he said, noting that Adhoc knew of 150 people who were arrested in such disputes in 2008, as well as 50 so far in 2009.
Chiv Keng, president of Phnom Penh Municipal Court, dismissed the claim that the courts were being used by the government against the poor. He said those who complained about the court system were often "losers" in land disputes. "So, of course, they shout that the court is unjust," he said, "but we follow the law in reviewing land cases."
The event at the World Vision office in Phnom Penh marked the publication of "Losing Ground", a report from a coalition of local NGOs that reviews recent land disputes in the capital and in the provinces. It also marked the local launch of Amnesty International's Demand Dignity campaign.
In a statement, Amnesty said forced evictions were "one of the country's most serious human rights violations today.... The increasing number of land disputes, confiscations, and industrial and urban redevelopment projects hurt almost exclusively people living in poverty".