Rights Envoy Criticizes Land Concessions

Cambodian authorities continue to disobey their own laws while put­ting an increasing share of the na­tional territory in private hands, the UN’s envoy for human rights Yash Ghai stated in a new report releas­ed Tuesday.

In his fourth report on Cambo­dia, Yash Ghai wrote that granting companies the right to use large tracts of land, known as “economic land concessions,” is a process shrouded in illegality which offers little economic benefit to the country while inflicting numerous hardships on the most vulnerable.

Ghai on Tuesday afternoon was scheduled to address the UN Hu­man Rights Council, which began its fifth weeklong session in Geneva on Monday. At the council, he was scheduled to present his previous report on Cambodia, which was re­leased in March and described the abuse of human rights as a tool of governance in Cambodia.

The newly created 47-nation council, which includes the UK, France, Canada and Japan as well as Indonesia and the Philippines, is also due to consider Cambodia’s situation and may renew the reporting mandates of the rights envoy and the UN’s Phnom Penh human rights office.

Informed of the new report and some of its contents, government and ruling CPP members on Tuesday again dismissed Ghai’s analysis, saying its author was misinformed and his conclusions erroneous.

The report, which updates a similarly critical 2004 report on land concessions by Ghai’s predecessor Peter Leuprecht, finds that “the concerns raised over the past dec­ade remain the same today.”

According to Ghai, by the end of 2006, 59 economic land concessions in 16 provinces and municipalities covered nearly 950,000 hectares, representing 14.5 percent of all of Cambodia’s arable land or 5 percent of the entire country.

Yet the concession phenomenon has not taken on such dimensions without a human cost, Ghai wrote.

Using sometimes violent or coercive means, concessionaires begin clearing land before they have re­ceived permission, without consulting the lands’ inhabitants and illegally circumvent the 10,000-hectare limit on concessions’ size by acquiring several concessions, each next to the other, the report states.

The concessions “have had a devastating impact on non-indigenous and indigenous communities alike,” Ghai wrote.

“This report has concluded that economic land concessions have not proven to be an effective way of promoting development that benefits the majority of Cambodians. Instead, they are compromising the livelihoods of rural communities in favor of the enrichment of the few.”

Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun said that Ghai was wrong. “Ghai’s report is not true,” Chan Sarun said.

“The land concessions have created people’s jobs and prevented overseas migration,” he said.

The public have enough land to live on, however some concessions result from the fact that people willingly sell their own land, Chan Sarun said, adding that the ministry revoked five concessions just last week due to their failure to comply with their agreements with the ministry.

“The government’s objective in giving the land concessions is to provide benefits to the people,” he said.

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