Land Disputes Down in 2015 Due to ELC Freeze

Although the number of land disputes across the country decreased in the first six months of the year—largely due to a freeze on the granting of economic land concessions (ELCs)—little has been done to resolve existing disputes, according to a report released Wednesday by rights group Adhoc.

“Whose Land? Land Situation in Cambodia 2014 and First Half of 2015,” says that between January 1 and the end of June, Adhoc received 66 complaints about previously unreported land disputes that have affected 3,564 families on a total of 8,668.73 hectares of land.

During the same period last year, Adhoc received 79 complaints involving 5,994 families on 19,455 hectares of land, the report sayd.

At the launch of the report at Adhoc’s office in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, Thun Saray, the group’s president, said the decrease was due to the government’s May 2012 freeze on the issuance of new ELCs.

“In the first six months of this year, there were just three land disputes related to economic land concessions, dramatically dropping because there were no licenses issued for new ELCs,” Mr. Saray said.

“The remaining 63 cases are linked to oknhas, advisers to high-ranking officials and the military,” he said. “So we cannot say that there are no land disputes…because disputes over land continue, and occur due to people’s greed.”

Asked to name the powerful people involved in the land disputes, Mr. Saray declined, explaining that this could negatively impact those on the other side of the conflict.

Mr. Saray said Adhoc researchers throughout the country also found that little was being done to solve chronic land disputes, especially those involving the rich and powerful.

“So we appeal to the top leaders. These land disputes are not easily settled without the help of their political will, as they involve a number of powerful officials aligned with the government,” he said.

The report says that although the government revoked or downsized 24 ELCs last year, the damage, in most cases, had already been done.

“ADHOC monitors observed that most of the ELCs canceled in 2014 were never developed, and that the land was abandoned before the concessions were canceled,” it said. “In many cases the land was cleared and the trees cut, including inside protected areas.”

Mr. Saray said companies that violated the terms of their ELC contracts were rarely punished.

“We have never seen any ELC [holders] face legal repercussions for cutting down trees or causing social and environmental [detriment] after having their licenses canceled,” he said. “We believe that those concessionaires should face serious penalties.”

Latt Ky, head of Adhoc’s land and natural resources rights program, said the three ELC disputes this year involved the Pacific Glory Joint Stock Co. Ltd. and Pacific Victory Joint Stock Co. Ltd., both in Mondolkiri province, and the Roy Feng company in Preah Vihear province.

It is unclear whether the ELCs were granted before the 2012 moratorium, according to the report.

Land Management Ministry spokesman Seng Laut said he had seen Adhoc’s report, but declined to comment.

The International Federation for Human Rights and U.K. law firm Global Diligence said in a joint statement Wednesday that between January 2014 and the end of March this year, there were 60,000 new victims of government-sanctioned land grabbing in Cambodia.

Richard Rogers, a Global Diligence lawyer, will use this new data as additional evidence for a complaint he filed in October last year—initiated by the opposition CNRP—at the International Criminal Court in the Hague, the statement said.

The complaint was filed on behalf of 10 Cambodian victims of land grabbing and accuses the country’s “ruling elite” of crimes against humanity.

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