NGO officials told lawmakers Monday that the government has dragged its feet in resolving land disputes and that often in land dispute resolutions the government shows a bias against the poor in favor of wealthy developers, though several senators also present at a land conference at the Senate Library said that such a conclusion was one-sided.
NGO Forum on Cambodia Executive Director Chhith Sam Ath said during the meeting, titled Parliamentary Briefing on Land Disputes and the Impact on Cambodia’s Poor, that 173 land disputes had been reported in 2008 but that little more than 10 percent of them had been solved by authorities.
“A very small number, less than 13 percent, were solved in 2008,” Mr Sam Ath told the assembled senators and lawmakers at the Senate Library at an event organized by the Senate and the UNDP. “Some cases have taken as long as 10 years to solve,” he said.
In addition to the glacial pace of resolutions, 54.43 percent of land disputes in 2008 involved agricultural land, which has dire affects on the livelihoods of the farmers who use the land, according to a report from NGO Forum.
“It will affect negatively the living conditions and activities, the income of people, because the disputes mostly involved agricultural land in Siem Reap, Mondolkiri, Kompong Speu and Kompong Chhnang provinces,” Mr Sam Ath said.
Brian Rohan, land and livelihood advisor with the American Bar Association, raised the issue of Phnom Penh’s Group 78 with the lawmakers as an example of people not being treated fairly under the law. Group 78 residents, who have complete possession rights under the land law to own the property, are still facing eviction, he said.
Mr Rohan said that the Phnom Penh Municipality had denied Group 78 residents the right to land titles as a pretext to give them small compensation for leaving their land.
“When the communities talk to city hall, city hall will say you don’t have any rights at all. There is complete denial that possession rights give some strong legal rights to the land,” he said.
Mr Rohan accused the Cadastral Commission at the Land Management Ministry, the Council of Ministers’ National Authority for the Resolution of Land Disputes and the courts of political bias.
“The communities are supposed to be able to go to the Cadastral Commissions, and the Cadastral Commission would solve the problem, but for big cases, the Cadastral Commission does not dare to take any action. They do not dare to solve the problem,” he said.
“So these institutions, such as the Cadastral Commission, do not dare to go and solve the problem because of the political situation,” he added.
“Unfortunately, for big cases where maybe there is a big investor, money involved, the courts do not dare to take action.”
CPP Senator Chhit Kimyeat responded, saying that the NGO Forum presentation was one-sided. He added that some land disputes had occurred due to the incitement of a political party, which he did not name, but which appeared to be the opposition Sam Rainsy Party.
“There are a lot of cases of bad people and there is even a political party behind their backs,” the CPP senator claimed.
The senator continued adding that “it has been difficult to solve” land disputes because some NGO workers defended “bad people,” pointing to an example in Kratie province in which he said people encroached on legally purchased properties.
Mr Kimyeat did not elaborate on what NGO workers and political party he was referring to.
CPP lawmaker Van Sengly then took the floor and praised the work of Ministry of Land Management officials.
“This commission takes care of the land disputes very seriously,” Mr Sengly said.