Gov’t Unfazed By Criticism Of Land Rights

Despite mounting criticism from major donor countries, international organizations and rights groups over the government’s land rights policies and the large number of forced evictions in the country, government officials reached Sunday appeared unfazed by the comments.

With the eviction of Phnom Penh’s Group 78 community pending last week the World Bank released a statement signed by the European Commission and the UN as well as the embassies of Australia, the US, UK, Germany, Denmark and Bulgaria, which called on the government to stop all evictions from disputed areas until “a fair and transparent mechanism for resolving land disputes is put in place.”

The statement added that the evictions are a result of “policies and practices that do not reflect good international practice in dispute resolution and resettlement and do not make effective use of the procedures and institutions allowed for in Cambodian law.”

The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a separate statement Friday expressing “regret” that the group was evicted “before their claims to land ownership had been adequately determined by the relevant,” mechanisms. And Amnesty International said that the evictions made a “mockery of the government’s obligations to protect the right to housing,” pointing out that there were 27 reported group evictions in 2008 alone affecting over 23,000 Cambodians.

These statements followed recommendations made earlier this year by both the UN Special Rapporteur for Adequate Housing and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that there be an “complete moratorium on all group evictions” in Cambodia.

Reached by telephone Sunday, Council of Minister’s spokesman Phay Siphan said he had not seen any of last week’s statements and that he could not respond to criticism he had not heard. The decision to evict Group 78 was made on municipal level, he added, and the national government should not be held accountable for City Hall’s decision, as the municipality have an adequate process to deal with land disputes.

When asked about previous criticism the government received for forced eviction such as the violent eviction of nearly 400 families Phnom Penh’s Dey Krahorm community in January, Mr Siphan said the government is elected “by the people for the people” and that “it is what we decide.”

“The government is for the people and always criticized. But even if they [the government] have a good answer to criticism I will see the [negative] reports,” he said before declining further comment.

Forced evictions are sometimes necessary to promote development in the country, said Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun. And, he added, several of the countries now criticizing the government have gone through similar processes when they first started their development.

“We still listen to them even though they criticize us, but we often explain to them about development and that we gain more praise by saying our city is nice,” Mr Chhoeun said.

The paved road that will go through what was once Group 78 should be done within a few weeks but, he added, it could take longer because of all the trash in the area.

Although evictions are necessary for development the authorities and development firms should focus on improving the standards of the relocation sites before they remove people, said CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap. He defended the eviction of Group 78 and said it was a necessary policy to clean up Phnom Penh but thanked foreign governments and organization for raising their concern over forced evictions.

“In my point of view, villagers in Group 78 should be moved out because they lacked the sanitation as I often pass there on my way to work at the National Assembly,” he said.

But he explained both City Hall and the development firms should install sanitation systems, build schools, hospitals and paved roads before moving people out to relocation sites.

“As a member of Parliament, I urge City Hall and development firms to improve the relocation site prior to moving people,” he added.


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