Minister criticizes findings of CHRAC’s dossier detailing the intimidation behind forced evictions
Before he lost his farmland in Koh Kong province to an economic land concession in 2006, Teng Kav grew watermelons and rice on a plot he says he farmed for more than two decades, producing enough food and money to support his family and more than 20 cows and water buffalo.
After he lost his land, Mr Kav sold most of his livestock to make ends meet, and now only a few remain—two were actually shot after they wandered on to the land formerly farmed by 400 families and now occupied by a sugarcane plantation. His home was burned down during the clearing of the land, he said.
“Now I have a feeling that my children will not have the proper accommodation for life,” said Mr Kav in a report entitled “Losing Ground: Forced Evictions and Intimidation in Cambodia,” released this morning by the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a coalition of 21 local rights groups.
The report covers seven recent or ongoing land disputes in detail, from the eviction of the Dey Krahorm community from Phnom Penh earlier this year to ethnic minority families in Kratie province who lost their land to a rubber plantation, and briefly touches on several other disputes.
In each case, the people involved in the disputes give their histories and tell of being intimidated by the authorities, sent to jail by the courts and in some cases, beaten by the police and military.
“[The report] gives an indication of what is lost when a home is destroyed or livelihood disrupted: not just the buildings, but everything a home can be—security, family, health, work and community,” Amnesty International Southeast Asia researcher Brittis Edman wrote in a foreword to the report.
Sok Sam Oeun, CHRAC chairman, said yesterday that the 76-page report was meant to be a compilation of information on land disputes that could be used by the government and researchers as a reference point.
“The report does not want to show, OK, all those people are right or wrong,” Mr Sam Oeun explained. “We want to say that this is an issue that we want the government to know about and to settle.”
He added that Cambodia’s prevailing lack of titles is still a huge factor in land disputes. However, he declined to give an opinion on the possible effects of this week’s cancellation by the government of the World Bank’s Land Management and Administration Project, which issued more than 1.1 million titles in seven years.
Andrew Syed, a program coordinator for Amnesty, said that the report was meant to be an exercise in freedom of speech.
“I think the major point for us is that people are speaking out on their own behalf, that this is a forum for their voices to be heard,” Mr Syed said. “People have a right to speak out on the issues that are affecting their lives.”
He added that it was important to highlight the issue of land disputes, and “We hope that the parties involved take note of people’s experiences.”
Nun Theany, spokeswoman at the Ministry of Land Management, said yesterday that she had seen the report, and felt it didn’t include enough sources for the stories presented.
“If they have the references, they must show it. Where is it?”
She added that government authorities never evict people from their land without first offering relocation and compensation plans to villagers. “The government has its own principles,” she said.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said yesterday that human rights groups such as CHRAC don’t always present the facts.
“I am optimistic that this report is not totally right. Mostly, human rights groups exaggerate because they do not like the sitting power of the government.”