AS the National Assembly gathers today to debate the government’s draft Law on Expropriation, opposition parties and rights groups have reiterated serious concerns that the law will “negatively affect” the public well-being.
In a statement released last week, the Human Rights Party contended that the draft law lacks the proper means of protection for citizens and gives powerful groups opportunities to abuse the rights of property owners to wrongfully seize land.
“Some points in the draft are not completely clear; the wording is vague. That could encourage individuals with power to use the law as they wish and damage the national interest and people’s rights,” the HRP statement read.
SOME POINTS IN THE DRAFT ARE NOT COMPLETELY CLEAR; the WORDING IS VAGUE.
The proposed law, approved by the Council of Ministers earlier this month, gives the government the right to seize land for infrastructure works or any other projects deemed to be in the “public interest”.
The statement pointed at five important details to be revised in the current version of the law, including better assessment of property ownership rights, market-price compensation for the loss of land and guarantees that the expropriated communities find decent relocation sites.
In a joint statement released last Thursday, a coalition of local and international NGOs appealed to the National Assembly “to minimise the potential negative impacts of expropriation procedures where they are necessary and improve the legal protections offered individuals affected by such operations”. The statement also lists 14 recommendations to be introduced during today’s parliamentary debate.
Hang Chhaya, director of the Khmer Institute for Democracy, said that unclear wording in the current draft could pave the way for serious injustices, denying people the protection they deserve.
But he also expressed his satisfaction with the open discussion taking place between the government and NGOs on the issue.
“It is an honourable thing to have a heated debate. To find solutions that help the people on such crucial circumstances is the reason for a civil society to exist in the first place,” he said.
Given the government’s record on forced expropriations and insufficient compensation, he said, a “proper law that takes all parties involved into account could also do some good in cleaning up the government’s image”.
Ou Virak, executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, agreed that the ongoing debate over the law is a positive sign.
“We are making suggestions and pushing for changes in the draft in a way that was simply not possible before,” he said, but warned that the language used in the draft should be clearer and “more calibrated with the law’s core intentions”.
Cheam Yeap, a senior lawmaker from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said that opposition groups had the right to voice their opinion, but that the decision now depends on the Assembly.
“Opposition groups are never satisfied anyway. They wanted this law from the start, and now that it is on the table, they oppose it,” he said, but added that having a draft is better than not having any regulation at all.