Forced Evictions in Cambodia: time to end impunity

Two international human rights organizations and two Cambodian NGOs called today upon Cambodian authorities to take effective measures to combat the practice of forced evictions which constitutes a flagrant violation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and other international human rights instruments that the Kingdom of Cambodia has ratified.

The call was made by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders - a joint programme of International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) – along with the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) and the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO).

The Observatory is issuing a new report entitled “Defending Economic and Social Rights in Cambodia: A High Risk Activity”, which highlights land-grabbing and forced evictions and the persecution of community activists and others who try to resist them. The report illustrates cases of grave human rights violations resulting from forced evictions including the April 2007 eviction of a community Sihanoukville’s Mittapheap district and the June 2006 eviction of Sambok Chab in Phnom Penh. The report notes that communities affected by evictions are neither consulted nor informed well in advance. Compensation is largely insufficient, the resettlement areas are precarious and the humanitarian conditions of the affected populations are far from being human. Villagers opposing forced evictions are routinely targeted for unfounded criminal charges, while NGOs and journalists reporting on them are threatened. The deaths of some villagers are not properly investigated such as the death of a community activist from Stung Treng in July 2007 and the execution of the two Prey Vihear villagers who resisted an eviction in November 2007.

As well as community activists and others who are active against forced evictions, the report notes that other human rights defenders also face an unacceptably high degree of risk in their work. For example, two community activists from Preah Vihear were killed in 2007.
“It’s time for the Cambodian authorities for make a radical shift in their approach to land disputes,” said LICADHO director Naly Pilorge. “Failure to open honest dialogue with the people, and to find fair solutions for them which respect the law and their land rights, will only worsen the situation and lead to broader civil unrest.”

Thun Saray, President of ADHOC, added: “The authorities’ lack of transparency over ownership of land, and their willingness to conduct violent evictions rather than use peaceful negotiation to try to resolve disputes, are creating a climate of fear, violence and confusion.”
“Donors and the international community must do all they can to avoid Cambodia’s land crisis from deteriorating further,” said Ms. Souhayr Belhassen, President of FIDH. “The growing landlessness will create huge economic, social and political problems for the country.

“The international community must insist that the Cambodian Government respect the country’s laws and the international human rights treaties it has ratified,” continued Ms. Belhassen. “The widespread impunity enjoyed by the authorities and by the rich and powerful must be brought to an end.”

Based on the report’s findings, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, ADHOC and LICADHO make the following key recommendations:

- Establish an immediate moratorium on all involuntary evictions until the adoption and the proper and vigorous implementation of a strict legislative framework on evictions and resettlement as well on land and housing rights.
- End judicial proceedings based on groundless and arbitrary charges against community activists and other human rights defenders advocating for the right to land, to adequate housing and against illegal exploitation of natural resources.
- Ensure that all populations who have been forcibly relocated to date receive land titles for alternative land. The conditions of existing relocation sites should be immediately improved: communities should have access to medical treatment and health services, education. They should also receive adequate compensation.

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