CAMBODIA’S Senate has rubber-stamped a proposed new law regulating property seizures, senior Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker Cheam Yeap said Thursday, sending the controversial legislation one step closer to being formally adopted and stoking fears it could be used to justify future evictions.
The Senate approved the draft Law on Expropriation Thursday in a debate that lasted less than 20 minutes, according to a senator from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party.
“This expropriation law will continue to make people suffer,” said Senator Kong Korm, who argued that the law would make it too easy for authorities to seize land deemed to be in the “public interest”.
Critics worry the law’s wording is too vague to protect citizens living under the threat of eviction – particularly those who do not hold land titles but have lived on their land for years.
Lawmakers with the ruling CPP, however, say the proposed law protects private ownership by defining the circumstances in which land may be seized.
“To have a law is better than having no law at all,” Cheam Yeap said.
In December, the National Assembly voted to approve the draft law while ignoring amendments proposed by opposition parties.
Rights groups remain wary that the law will deal an additional blow to tenure security in the Kingdom.
“I am very concerned about how this law will be applied,” said Yeng Virak, executive director of the Community Legal Education Centre.
The proposed law extends protection to those who have obtained titles for their land.
It does not, however, explicitly recognise residents who lack titles but have lived on their property continuously for at least five years – a factor that gives them ownership under the 2001 Land Law.
“For villagers who possess land under the old law, many of them do not have land titles. According to [the draft law], they are vulnerable for the taking,” Yeng Virak said. “Frankly, this could be seen as legalising evictions.”
Other observers, however, are more optimistic about how the law will be applied.
“I see a need for such a law,” said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights. “Prior to this, the government could do whatever they wanted, including evicting people at will. Having a law will set out guidelines about what can be done and what cannot be done.”
Still, Ou Virak said he is concerned about the draft law’s vague wording and its definition of ownership.
“Having titles is not common in Cambodia,” he said. “A law that only looks at titles as the only form of ownership is not good enough. Civil society must pay attention to how this law will be interpreted.”
The draft legislation must be approved by King Norodom Sihamoni before it becomes law. Cheam Yeap said that would happen “soon”, though he declined to offer a specific date.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY IRWIN LOY