Updates on ongoing land grabbing cases

Case 1: 81 families in the village Prek Pnao, San Sok district, Phnom Penh

This case concerns 81 families that have been victimised by land grabbing in the outskirts of Phnom Penh. Following the eviction of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, this group returned to their land and began the long process of cultivation in a bid to bring their farms back into a healthy, profitable state. Throughout the 1980’s, communes were sustained between families with the production of food and resources shared within the local communities. However in 1992, government authorities returned to the communities with the intention of seizing the land of those without certificates. As any proof of private ownership was destroyed during the Khmer Rouge regime and the cost of private certificates were far beyond the peoples means, land rights were non-existent. Subsequently, the government was able to illegally claim 19 hectares of their land and sell it to private foreign investors with little consequence. The local people were evicted from their land without compensation, losing their livelihood in the process.

Today, HROTP is helping these 81 families to seek compensation for the land taken from them. These families have been submitting continuous complaints since 1992 yet have not achieved a single success, despite complaining to the provincial authorities. The case has not been resolved, after issuing complaints at the provincial court, supreme court and several appeals,  the families have lost every time. This is largely also due to the lack of funding for the legal costs, whilst the government has had better means to advance its case. After a growing sense of frustration, the families are submitting a formal complaint to His Royal Majesty the King to request him to speak to the high judges committee and the justice ministry in order to allow the people to re-submit their lawsuit and restart the process.

Case 2: 151 families in the Kroyea commune, San Tuk district, Kompong Thom province

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151 families have been cultivating 44 hectares of land here since 2000, growing Kasuva potatoes and rubber trees needed for their subsistence. In 2013, the forestry officer and the Kompong Thom authorities decided to initiate a plan to seize the land.

The families are gravely concerned that this will become a reality, as they have their homes and their livelihoods on this land. The government has accused the families of deforestation, yet they rightfully own the land and have been utilizing it to grow crops.

HROTP are helping these families submit a formal complaint to the intended land grabbing. The families do have adequate certificates to prove that the land is theirs.

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Land Grabbing Dispute in San Tuk

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HROTP has been working on a landgrabbing case in the San Tuk district in the Kompong Thom province. After 35 families, victims of land grabbing, protested outside the San Tuk provincial office, an advisory group was formed in order to discuss a potential resolution of their case. These families have had over 75 hectares of their farming land illegally sold to private investors without compensation. As this land was the sole basis of their already meager livelihoods, providing them with potatoes, cashew nuts and vegetables needed for their subsistence, the consequences of the land dispute are severe.

The advisory group was composed of a representative from the National Assembly, the governor and vice-president of the San Tuk district, the chief of administration, HROTP as well as representatives for the 35 families. After much discussion, the governor promised the victims that the authorities are going to resolve the case.

It remains unclear if resolution comes in the form of monetary compensation or the restoration of their land rights – this will be established after a series of further meetings scheduled to take place this week.

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The advisory group meet to resolve the land dispute

Fundraising for a Housing Project for Landgrabbing Victims in Kompong Thom

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HROTP have launched a fundraising campaign to develop a grassroots housing project in Senserei Mongkul village for a disabled elderly woman, her daughter and 6-year old granddaughter. This remarkable woman, Chhen Sopheap, and her family lost their home and land as a result of illegal land grabbing. HROTP  needs to secure the final $1500 USD required to build them a new home. With less than a month to go before the campaign ends, it’s imperative we get your help to raise the money needed help this impoverished family.

Please Donate Here

The family is currently living in a wooden hut that is no bigger than a single bedroom, with no room to stand. The land on which they live is rocky and largely infertile, so they are unable to grow their own food. As the hut is lent to them on a short-term basis, they live in constant fear of eviction.

The family is malnourished and often sick, Sopheap has been unable to see out of one eye and is too weak to walk very far or perform any type of hard labour. Her daughter also suffers from heart problems. Money raised previously has made an immeasurable difference in the family’s wellbeing, enabling Sopheap to seek eye treatment and to purchase a sewing machine enabling her to make a meagre daily income. This is not enough to support the family, leaving them to rely on donations of food from the local villagers and creating a strain on an already impoverished community.

HROTP is helping Sopheap’s family to become self-sufficient and gain access to basic human rights: adequate shelter, food and fresh water. By achieving this we will also be helping the local community as a whole, alleviating the burden placed on them.

We have already secured the building materials needed to build the family a home, well and sanitary facilities while HROTP’s Mam Sitha has generously donated a plot of arable land. Situated by a main road, this central location will attract a greater number of customers, boosting the family income. This home will provide them with much needed stability, partially compensating them for the loss they’ve endured. This is a significant step closer to self-sufficiency for this impoverished family.

With everything in place, we now need just $1500 USD to fund the final costs associated with building the home and digging the well. $1000 USD will cover the labour costs of the build, while $500 is required to finance the installation of the well and sanitary facilities. This project will not only make a world of difference for this family and the future prospects for the six year old granddaughter but also for the community as a whole. Any contribution will have a lasting affect on the lives of the people of Kampong Thom and is greatly appreciated.

Please Donate Here

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HROTP joins public forum against NGO laws

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Around 300 people protested against LANGO

Yesterday, HROTP joined around 300 people at Freedom Park for a public forum protesting the controversial law being introduced by the Cambodian government:  the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations (LANGO). The campaign against LANGO has been long ongoing and has gained momentum in the past few months. Various protests and marches have been held in the days leading up to the anticipated approval of the third draft of the bill by the National Assembly that takes place on Monday.

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HROTP at Freedom Park

Cambodia has developed a vibrant civil society sector over the past two decades, with more than 3000 local and international NGOs operating in the country. Today, most civil society organizations and NGOs are able to function with relatively little interference from the Cambodian authorities. LANGO, however, poses a significant threat to this by restricting freedom of expression and curbing democracy. The law orders mandatory registration of all civil society organizations as well as annual reporting requirements for NGOs. The registration requirement in particular are highly complex and troublesome, significantly impeding grassroot and informal group activities, thus constituting a violation of freedom of association.

Hundreds of Cambodian NGOs, several international organizations, such as Transparency International, the United Nations and the European Parliament, and multiple foreign embassies, have criticized the law, arguing that it is in direct violation of Cambodia’s constitution and several international covenants. Furthermore, they are troubled by the undemocratic process of its introduction that has neglected proper consultation with the civil society sector. The concerns are that the ambiguous nature of the law and a lack of defined limits on government authority gives it unchecked power to approve registrations. It may therefore be able to shut down organizations criticizing the government, limiting potential unrest prior to the 2018 national elections. It is also feared that the law severely restricts the voice of marginalized groups within Cambodia who are most strongly represented by civil society. Opponents say that hindering civil society activity in this manner is a direct assault on the future of Cambodian democracy and the human rights of freedom of expression, association and participation.

Yesterday’s protests saw representatives from NGOs, associations, trade unions, students, monks and the opposition call for the scrapping of the law. After opening the forum with the anti-LANGO song “We Don’t Need these Laws”, speakers from all parties lay forward their arguments for LANGO to be dropped, illustrating the negative impacts on the work of civil society and democracy. The day came to a close with singing and dancing. A few days prior, 1’200 people marched against the law but were stopped by security forces.

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Following widespread dissent, the government proposed four alterations to the law, however, these edits are trivial and have not satisfied opponents. The European Parliament are drafting a resolution that would see the loss of annual development project funding to Cambodia worth $600-700 million, if the law is approved by the Cambodian National Assembly. The vote will take place on Monday and is expected to pass.

For more information on LANGO please see:

For live updates

The Economist

Transparency International

TRAFFICKING CASE – KAMPONG CHAM TO CHINA

The two victims, Sim Sokmern (left) and Yun Lada (right.
The two victims, Sim Sokmern (left) and Yun Lada (right).

HROTP are currently working with and helping Ms Lada, the mother and neighbour of two young girls, Yun Lada and Sim Sokmern, now victims of sex trafficking in China. Both from the Kampong Cham province, these girls have been confined in China for almost 2 years, and cannot return home unless they provide $50,000 to the boss of the trafficking organisation. With Cambodia having an average yearly income of $900, this is clearly an unfeasible request.

The situation arose when the mother of Yun Lada was presented with a deceitul offer from the organisation, unaware of their identity. Promised that her daughter would marry a rich husband in China, and that she would receive a large sum of money, Ms Lada naively accepted this offer, hoping to provide her daughter with a better life. Unfortunately, Yun Lada is now the victim of physical and sexual abuse, being transferred from man to man. Resultingly, she now has a 3 month old baby. Yun Lada has been able to call her mother a couple of times, but besides this, no other information has been provided. A harrowing case presents itself, but it is not without hope.

The boss of the organisation, a Cambodian woman in connection with the partner organisation in China, has now been arrested by the Cambodian authorities. She will present herself in court in Kampong Cham, and while the case develops, HROTP is writing to the Corporate Foreign Affairs Ministry to find a way to get Ms Lada’s daughter and her neighbour home, without paying the extortionate fine.

Ms Lada at the HROTP office.
Ms Lada at the HROTP office.

KAMPONG THOM AUTHORITY LAND GRABBING

Another land grabbing case has been brought to HROTP to resolve. 30 families from Trapang Phdao village of Boeung Luea Commune in the Sontok district of Kampong Thom Province are fighting to keep their land which has already been substantially destroyed by the Kampong Thom authority.

The land is now virtually unusable for farming.
The land is now virtually unusable for farming.

The homes and land of a total of 215 families were originally damaged by an overflow of the Mekong river, and as such, the government approved these 30 families’ requests for additional land elsewhere. This approved land is now at stake, and like most cases, these people do not own any other land, making the case critically important. Around 70 hectares, which previously housed the families and farmed cassava and rice, has been seized since 2009, with the farmland now completely cut down. Furthermore, the Kampong Thom authority has used illegal practise in order to grab the land, failing to follow the approved procedures.

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The families are appealing to national department units for help, including the national assembly, Kampong Thom governor and the Ministry of Interior. They are facing a difficult battle with the Kampong Thom authority, whose strong and sometimes violent words are threatening further legal action, such as imprisonment, if the families continue to complain. With a clear breach of human rights and a corrupt move from the government, HROTP aims to help these families, in co-operation with the national department units, obtain justice.

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RECLAIMING THE RIGHT OF OWNERSHIP

The assertion of ownership has become a frequent problem in Cambodia. The government often abuse their power to seize land and property from anyone who cannot offer documentary proof of ownership, or are accused of crimes they did not commit.

Two of the seized motorbikes, now very damaged.
Two of the seized motorbikes, now very damaged.

In 2014, three more people of Kampong Thom province became victims of this issue, whereby each of their motorbikes were illegally taken by the Forestry Officer. The bikes were left unattended while the people were farming – an act claimed to be illegal by the officer, who accused the people of destroying the forest and unrighteously grabbing the land. Consequently, each vehicle has been seized with a view to be sold. This response is immoral and representing the continual corrupt behaviour of Cambodian officials.

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HROTP director working with the officer to collate documents.

To reclaim the bikes before sale, the three victims have submitted a collection of documents to the government in attempt to prove their ownership. They are yet to be accepted and returned.

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LAND DISPUTE CONTINUES IN SIEM REAP

Democracy and human rights issues in Cambodia are incessant. The number and intensity of incidents which occur are alarming, with the poorest families being victimised daily unable to defeat the corruption thrust upon them.

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One hundred and thirty one families in Siem Reap are now amongst those disputing a land grabbing issue. These issues continue and develop for a number of years, with no resolution due to a lack of procedure and processing.

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The aforementioned dispute regards 200 hectares of land in the Bakong district of Siem Reap Province. The families do not own any other land, making this case even more significant. The National Department has been ordered to take action but is not following it up. There is no legitimate process, reducing the probability of justice for these families. HROTP is working with these families to get the dispute processed.

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KAMPONG THOM LAND DISPUTE CONTINUES – HROTP ASSISTS


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One of HROTP’s most recent projects regards a lengthy land grabbing dispute, unresolved since 2012 with a history dating back to 1982 when the 29 families, now deprived of their land, orginally acquired it. Problems began to develop in 1995, when the government contracted with a company to cut down 35 hectares of trees and farming crops which enabled rice and fruit production. When this project finished, the families reclaimed their land in 2002, but corruption did not end.

Despite obtaining a declaration of ownership from the governer, the military, forest officers, police officers and PM of the Kampong Thom province authority have illegally used their administration power to destroy the remainder of the land, preventing further agriculture and fruit farming. Consequently, the 29 families, unaware of this destruction and owning no other land, want justice.

On 15th June 2015, representatives from the family met with HROTP in Phnom Pehn in order to find a solution by reporting the situation to officers at the Ministry of Interior. As they hold a declaration of their land ownership, they now appeal to the highest national department to obtain help against further destruction of the land. Overall, these families wish to retain the land which they rightfully own, and prevent further illegal corruption and land grabbing by the authorities. HROTP is on the case to assist in finding a solution, and consolidating documents to prepare the appeal.

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HROTP is a Khmer NGO focusing on human rights, democracy, and law.