The UN’s human rights envoy warned that the stage could be set for civil unrest if the government continues taking land from rural Cambodians and turning it over to private companies.
“It’s very dangerous in any society to have more and more people with nothing to lose,” Peter Leuprecht said in an interview on Saturday. “I think there’s a lot of potential for unrest.”
Leuprecht’s comments were echoed in a report, released at the conclusion of his weeklong trip to Cambodia on Sunday, in which he condemned the government’s land concession policies and the private companies involved.
“Their activities have led to a number of human rights contraventions,” Leuprecht said. “[The concessions] are not reducing poverty among the people concerned. They are contributing to the plundering of the natural resources of Cambodia.”
Leuprecht also called for the release of all information relating to concessions, including the location of concessions, contracts between the government and companies, and the names of shareholders of companies involved.
Leuprecht said he sent a letter to Cabinet Minister Sok An requesting that information and was waiting for a reply.
This year’s trip, his first since last November, focused on land issues and land concessions, impunity and corruption.
Leuprecht said four years after he made his first visit to Cambodia, the “four evils” he has been noting since 2000—poverty, violence, corruption and lawlessness —still plague the country.
“I do not deny that some kind of progress has been made in some areas,” the UN envoy said. “But I also note that some phenomena are really becoming more serious.”
Leuprecht said he was particularly struck by the number of high-profile killings in Cambodia over the past year, especially the Jan 22 slaying of union leader Chea Vichea.
“This case will not go away,” Leuprecht said. “It has received now a high degree of international attention.”
In Cambodia, he said, “there seems to be a pattern of impunity.” He added: “There’s reason to believe it is a system, a system that undermines the state, that undermines the rule of law and the trust of people.”
Leuprecht also warned that it was imperative for the government to show real progress in reform as the Consultative Group meeting in December nears, at which international donors are expected to pledge aid to Cambodia.
Calls for comment made to government spokesman Khieu Kanharith and Om Yentieng, head of the government’s human rights Committee, were unsuccessful Sunday.