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Rights Group: Constitutional Violation Root of Cambodia Land Disputes

  • Hul Reaksmey

FILE - Supporters gather with banners that say "please provide justice to land activists of Boeung Kak," at Municipality Court, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, May 30, 2014.

FILE - Supporters gather with banners that say "please provide justice to land activists of Boeung Kak," at Municipality Court, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, May 30, 2014.

Rights advocates in Cambodia allege government violations of the country's constitution are largely responsible for land disputes harming tens of thousands of families.

Am Sam Ath, lead investigator for the rights group Licadho, said the constitution provides for the right to land ownership for Cambodian citizens, but that is not happening, either.

“We’ve seen that some citizens suffered from evictions, and others are arrested or imprisoned,” he said.

Over 170,000 families across the country were hurt by land disputes in 2014, according to a new a report by NGO Forum on Cambodia. A third of those came from land concessions, many of which themselves are not legal, in that they exceed a 10,000-hectare limit, Am Sam Ath said.

Such land disputes have created much disagreement between the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, whose supporters tend to benefit from the land deals, and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which says it wants to prevent people from losing their land.

Meanwhile, Sam Rainsy, leader of the CNRP has promised supporters his party will seek to collect land from companies if that land has been seized illegally under a concession.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, in a public speech last week, accused the opposition of making promises that hurt successful business owners, warning: “They will confiscate hotels for the poor!”

He warned that “discrimination” against the rich could lead to war.

But Ou Virak, head of the think tank Future Forum, said that while Cambodia’s constitution is meant to protect people’s land, neither party seems intent on thoroughly respecting the constitution.

“Because of this, we see issues related to land violation, freedom of mobilization, and other issues were rarely mentioned by these people, meaning they will have obligations to protect the interest and the rights of the people if they mention constitution,” he said.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.

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