UN envoy says he will bring up villagers’ concerns in his meetings
SURYA Subedi, the UN’s visiting human rights envoy, met briefly with villagers affected by land disputes on Monday, and promised to raise their concerns when he meets with senior government officials later this week, community representatives said.
Luon Sovath, a representing 175 families involved in a land row in Siem Reap province’s Chi Kraeng district, said land-dispute victims from across the country gathered in the morning at the local office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, where Subedi spoke with them.
“We have never had the chance to meet Prime Minister Hun Sen to express our difficulties, so we asked Mr Surya Subedi to inform him instead, and he promised to bring these words with him,” Luon Sovath said.
He said representatives from Svay Rieng, Kandal, Kampong Speu and Kampong Chhnang provinces also spoke with Subedi on Monday.
A villager from Svay Rieng’s Romeas Hek district, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals from authorities there, said he handed Subedi a petition bearing the signatures of 300 residents who were involved in a dispute with the An Marady Group.
The petition requested the release of a local villager who has been arrested in connection with the land fight.
“We do not want to have a dispute. We just want our land back and the release of innocent people,” the villager said.
Subedi is currently undertaking his third mission to the country, with a focus on the functioning of the judiciary.
In a statement issued on June 9, the local rights group Adhoc criticised the envoy for not addressing the issue of land disputes, which it said should be a top priority.
Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, also urged Subedi to discuss land disputes with senior officials, though he added that judicial reform could do much to eradicate “suffering”.
“So many poor people are suffering from the court system that the people have stopped believing the court and sought help from NGOs and the international community instead,” he said.
“I think [Subedi] clearly understands these issues, and should fulfill his obligation to help the people of Cambodia.”
Huan Touch, a spokesman for the UN human rights agency, said he was not aware about Subedi’s discussions with villagers on Monday. The envoy’s mission is to end Thursday.