News

Evictions Fuel Social Unrest in Cambodia

Violent clashes between poor Cambodians and security forces evicting them from the land they live on have increased fears of widespread unrest over the country's land policy.  Large numbers of displaced people could hurt the country's bid for peaceful development.

Chey Sophat sleeps in a makeshift shelter atop an unused dam in northwestern Cambodia. Ten meters away, the house he lived in for eight years lies in rubble. His family, along with 217 others, lost its land on March 21 when the police enforced a court-ordered eviction.

Five men were shot dead as the villagers - among Cambodia's poorest citizens - used axes, knives, acid and gasoline to try to hold onto their patch of land in Poipet Commune.

The area is being developed as a casino resort for tourists from neighboring Thailand. 

Chey Sophat says the villagers settled on the land years before it became a lucrative development zone, and toiled to clear the landmines left from decades of conflict. They built homes there while working across the border in Thailand or running small businesses, such as selling noodles.

But, despite their hard work, the villagers failed to establish their claim to the land, and the provincial court instead granted the land rights to a village chief with better political connections.

Approximately 15 percent of the country's 13 million people have no land to call their own.  And according to the World Bank, nearly 43 percent of Cambodians live on $1 or less a day, up from 37 percent in 1996.

Many rights advocates worry that the Poipet Commune conflict is a harbinger of the violence that could erupt as more people are displaced.

Thun Saray, president of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association, says courts generally rule that Cambodia's poor are trespassers, and many see violence as their only hope.

"If they don't care about this, I think the tension, violence would be increased more and more," he said.  "And also the political [situation] will be unstable also if they lack the social and economic situation like this." 

The Khmer Rouge leaders who came to power in 1975 erased formal property rights. When the brutal regime fell in 1979, the huge numbers of Cambodians returning from work or refugee camps were forced to settle where they could. With their land titles destroyed or lost, it was impossible to respect the earlier claims that usually direct land allocation in post-conflict societies.

Ensuing legislation has added complications. A new act passed in 2001 says that anyone occupying land for at least five years can claim ownership. But this law is often at odds with a 1992 law requiring people to provide a title to prove land rights. Those who settled in the nine years between are often left in limbo.

Song Vannsin, a land expert with the aid agency Oxfam, says the system is ineffective, as anyone with money can buy a land title or influence a judge.

"According to the observation, it seems like one party, the other party who tries to get the land from the poor, they always have the official document. And we don't know what is the legal document," he said.

Cambodia's largely undeveloped countryside and cheap work force make the country inviting to commercial investors. And its recent accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) has forced the country to discuss legislation and reforms to protect foreign and local business interests.

However, according to one Western diplomat, the political will to enforce transparency and strengthen the rule of law is lacking, and the legal risks surrounding land often scare away investment.

About 70 percent of Cambodia's population depends on subsistence farming, but farmland is increasingly being given to businesses. Nearly 15 percent of Cambodia's land has been granted to private companies for forestry, fishing, agricultural plantations and mining.

Earlier this year, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen temporarily froze land concessions, admitting the country must address land distribution problems or face what he called a "peasant revolution." But in March, the government again began doling out land to waiting investors.

International aid donors have blasted the government for granting contracts without full public knowledge and for allowing concessions to far exceed the legal 10,000 hectares. Some aid agencies say the deals also often do little to help the country's finances.

Chea Vannath is director of the Center for Social Development, which analyzes social trends. She says people are increasingly desperate about land issues.

"Before when people are unhappy, they took the gun and they go to the jungle. Now there's no more jungle to hide because of illegal logging," she said.

Ms. Vannath thinks a steady deterioration of living conditions and stability is more likely than a revolt and is concerned about increases in violent crime, robbery, and trafficking of drugs and people.

At the Poipet Commune, Chey Sophat plans to salvage what he can of his burned and bulldozed possessions and then search for food and water. He hopes the government will find land for him and his neighbors, but he wearily predicts that they will face eviction once more.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs