Community representatives yesterday delivered petitions calling for the resolution of land disputes in six provinces to the visiting UN special envoy for human rights Surya Subedi, with the hopes that he would pass the petitions along to Prime Minister Hun Sen when they meet on Thursday.
The representatives from the provinces of Kandal, Kompong Speu, Kompong Thom, Kompong Chhnang, Siem Reap and Svay Rieng arrived at the Phnom Penh Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights yesterday to hand over their petitions to UN Special Rapporteur Subedi, according to Christophe Peschoux, country representative for the OHCHR.
Mr Peschoux said that he felt that the villagers’ eagerness to petition a non-government official such as Mr Subedi was indicative of “a deficit in the administration of justice.”
“[Mr Subedi] told the community representatives that he is accessible and will be as accessible as he possible can be to people who want to meet him,” Mr Peschoux said.
The OHCHR office provides Mr Subedi with support during his visits, though he operates on an independent UN mandate to investigate the situation of human rights in the country.
Contacted by telephone, Mr Subedi declined to comment on whether or not he would bring the petitions to his meeting with Mr Hun Sen, saying he was too busy to speak.
In a press statement issued prior to Mr Subedi’s arrival on June 8, the envoy announced that the purpose of his trip was to examine the country’s judicial system, prompting local human rights group Adhoc to release a statement criticizing the trip’s concentration for not being focused enough on the issue of land disputes.
Adhoc’s Executive Director Thun Saray softened that criticism yesterday, saying that he had recently met with Mr Peschoux and believed that Mr Subedi was using “the angle of judicial reform” to address the land dispute issue.
Ean Yan, a 55-year-old community representative from Kandal province who visited the UN office yesterday, said he delivered a petition on behalf of the villagers in Kandal Stung district’s Prek Ho commune who are involved in a dispute over 400 hectares of land given by the government to the Heng Development Company.
“I went three times to the UN to hand out my complaint because I heard the UN representative was in Phnom Penh,” Mr Yan said, adding that representatives from other provinces, including Kompong Speu, Kompong Thom and Kompong Chhnang, had arrived separately due to fears that police would break up larger groups.
Nuon Savath, a monk from Siem Reap province’s Chi Kreng district, said he had delivered a petition asking for the release of three villagers jailed after a violent confrontation erupted in March 2009 between police and villagers over a disputed involving 450 hectares of shared farmland.
Similarly, a representative from Svay Rieng province’s Romas Hek district, who declined to be named for fear of retribution, said he was petitioning for the release of Year Yeng, who had been charged by the provincial court for allegedly helping to kidnap a policeman and three officials from the Pearm Chaing agriculture company during a land dispute.
The representative said that Mr Yeng was arrested after publicly criticizing the government when it claimed 3,960 hectares of land for a rubber plantation in Tros commune.
According to a statement issued late last night by OHCHR, the Municipality of Phnom Penh yesterday rejected a request from 220 community representatives to hold a peaceful march from Wat Phnom to Mr Hun Sen’s house to deliver a petition containing around 60,000 fingerprints calling for resolutions in various land disputes nationwide.
“This afternoon the Municipality of Phnom Penh rejected a request from a
group of community representatives to hold a peaceful march with
approximately 220 community representatives from Wat Phnom to the Prime
Minister’s house near the Independence Monument,” the OHCHR statement said.
“The Municipality, without giving any reasons or justification for the
refusal, as required under the new Peaceful Demonstrations Law, notified
the organizers late Monday afternoon,” the OHCHR said.
Mr Peschoux, the OHCHR country representative, said he regretted the negative response by the Municipality.
“This group of people merely intended to march peacefully to hand over a petition to the Prime Minister on an issue of great importance. It is regrettable that the Municipality did not provide reasons for prohibiting the march or provide alternatives to the group,” he said in the statement.
“Under the new Peaceful Demonstrations law, authorities must demonstrate that a march or demonstration would seriously risk endangering public order before they decide to prohibit the march,” he added.
“It is difficult to understand how a peaceful march involving only 220 persons, whose sole objective is to deliver a petition to the Prime Minister, could possibly endanger public order or security.”