Powerful Cambodians are misusing the court system to attack land-rights activists and villagers facing forced eviction, according to a report released Friday by Amnesty International.
“Police operations, arrests, detentions and charges are made in order to intimidate and punish the weaker party in land disputes or those opposing development projects,” the report claims.
One hundred fifty thousand Cambodians are in danger of being forcibly evicted, the report says, adding that in recent years, tens of thousands have already been forced from their homes.
“Those with political or economic power are allowed to act with impunity in arbitrarily expropriating land,” the report says. “They do so by colluding with local authorities in ways that lead to the issuing of dubious land titles and eviction orders, and the misuse of the court system to prevent victims from acting to defend their rights.”
According to a study conducted by local rights group Adhoc and cited in the Amnesty report, the number of arrests of land activists nearly doubled over the past two years. In 2006, 78 activists were arrested; in 2007, 149 were arrested, the report says.
The most common charges in such cases are “wrongful damage to property” and “infringements against private ownership”—charges that are often made without first determining who actually owns the land, the report alleges.
“The rich men and authorities target the representatives of the people,” said Chan Soveth, an Adhoc monitor. “They file a complaint to the court, and the court acts quickly in these cases.”
Reached by phone Sunday, CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said he agreed that the law was being abused by the powerful in land disputes but insisted that the existing National Authority for the Resolution of Land Disputes would fix the problem.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen will crack down even on government officers or four-star generals who are involved in illegal land grabbing,” Cheam Yeap said.
(Additional reporting by Eang Mengleng)