Land-grabbing by authorities at all levels, often in the name of development, continues to be a major source of anguish to Cambodia’s poor, according to a semiannual report from the human rights group Adhoc.
“We conclude that abusive parties use development as an excuse to take people’s land,” the report states. “The loss of large quantities of land affects families’ finances, makes the poor poorer and affects the government’s goal of poverty reduction.”
The report documents 63 cases investigated by Adhoc in the first six months of this year, affecting 2,746 families. Of those cases, one-quarter were complaints against district officials and 13 percent were against commune officials, with provincial and village officials also represented.
Nearly 16 percent of the accusations targeted military, police and military police officials.
Few Cambodians have formal title to their land. Experts say government ministries, individual government officials and businesses frequently lay claim to large swaths of land—claims the poor are ill-equipped to fight.
Some 40 percent of the cases in Adhoc’s report involved families who claimed they had been on the land since the period between 1979 and 1984. Less than 5 percent of the cases involved settlements dating from 2000 or later.
While 43 percent of the cases involved land taken by the authorities apparently for their personal use, more than half the seized land was ostensibly taken for development purposes. Some 29 percent of the cases alone involved land seized for road development.
Adhoc’s investigations found 52 percent of the cases involved land that was taken illegally, with methods ranging from forcing people off their land at gunpoint to forging false title documents.
Only six of the cases—less than 10 percent—were completely resolved, either through out-of-court mediation or through lawsuits, according to the report.
Adhoc Executive Director Thun Saray said he has seen “no progress” on the issue compared with previous years. In fact, he said, land disputes have become more difficult to resolve as the government works to implement last year’s land law and its supporting subdecrees, which outline the creation of Cadastral Commissions to conciliate land disputes.
“Right now, the present commissions have not yet been replaced by the Cadastral Commissions, so they lack commitment because they are about to lose their role,” Thun Saray said. It could be some time before the Cadastral Commissions are established, he added.