Community representatives, civil society organisations and opposition members have urged the government for more urgent action to resolve land disputes following the release of annual data showing that all 24 provinces were affected in 2014, with hundreds of cases still unresolved.
The call came at yesterday’s launch of a comprehensive research report by NGO Forum, which compiles data from media reports, rights groups and fieldwork.
According to the findings, 2014 saw a total of 352 land disputes, only 68 cases of which were completely resolved.
The report also revealed that Economic Land Concessions were the single biggest cause of disputes, affecting more than 17,000 families, with the highest prevalence in the capital.
Yong Ran, a representative at Sangkum Thmey village in Pursat province, claimed that his community had been losing land since 2010 as a result of government offers of concessions to investment companies.
As he explained, many had been forced to live in pagodas or at relatives’ houses, while others had migrated from the area due to unresolved disputes.
“Our life is already very difficult,” said another tearful community representative, “therefore, the authorities should protect our lands from concessions and not offer the title to companies.”
Executive director of NGO Forum, Tek Vannara, noted that although 2014 had seen a slight decrease in total cases, authorities’ failure to resolve some 315 land disputes in 2015 thus far has seen hundreds of families face eviction without proper compensation.
He called for greater speed and legal transparency in resolving disputes; more scrutiny of the environmental and social impacts of projects; and an end to the use of arrest and force to suppress related protests.
These concerns were echoed by Ngim Nheng of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, a member of the National Assembly Commission on Human Rights, who added that “authorities should stop threatening people and instead help solve the problem in order to maintain social cohesion and avoid further fracturing”.
However, Ea Bunthoeun of the land dispute resolution committee at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, told participants that the government had established a dedicated taskforce and land registration policy that recognises communities’ legal entitlements to promote swift resolution.
“The ministry decided to offer land certificates to people on two million hectares, with whom we resolved the dispute directly,” he said.
In March, the government countered criticism over inaction on land disputes by rights NGO Licadho, which contributed to the NGO Forum study, by releasing its own report suggesting the scale of the problem had been exaggerated.