Cambodia: Poor villagers shot, arrested in land evictions

June 6, 2012
Children of the jailed 15 (14 of them are women) residents of Boeung Kak Lake squatter settlement in Phnom Penh, protest in fro

This article and petition was prepared by a group of young Cambodian women activists.

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Evictions and forcible confiscations of land ranks as one of Cambodia's most pervasive human rights problems, and in fact is growing worse. Such actions, coupled with total impunity and a lack of the rule of law, are leading to violence fuelled by deep dissatisfaction over existing resettlement schemes. This in turn leads to violent responses by companies, the authorities and the law enforcement agencies.

Without going back through the decades of land conflict history, this year alone marks a very worrying trend of worsening human rights violations associated with land conflicts, of which the following are some prominent examples:

* On January 3, many families still residing in Borei Keila were forcibly evicted from their homes by a combined force of more than 100 police officials, military police, company employees and security guards. More than 200 homes were demolished.

The combined force also clashed violently with members of the community. Some police and community members were reportedly injured, while some residents were later arrested and detained by the police.

Sadly, On May 14, a nine-month-old baby died in Kuntha Bopha hospital, where he had been taken after suffering from diarrhoea and fever since his family was forcibly evicted from Borei Keila. The boy, Chan Samnang, fell ill as a direct result of wretched living conditions -- including a lack of appropriate shelter, food and services in the Srah Po resettlement site.

* On May 16, a 14-year-old girl, Heng Chantha, was shot dead at around 9am in Broma village, Kampong Domrei commune, Chhlong district, Kratie province, and at least two other villagers arrested, during a violent forced land eviction.

Witnesses report that hundreds of armed police and military police used rounds of live ammunition against 1000 or so villagers to forcibly evict them from their property. The villagers were demonstrating against the loss of their farmland as a result of an economic land concession granted to a subsidiary of Russian-owned Kastin LLC.

* On May 24, 13 women affected by the land conflict at Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak Lake, who have led protests against evictions of their squatter settlement, were convicted by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on charges of inciting others to take land illegally under Article 504 of the Penal Code and obtaining land illegally under Articles 34 and 259 of the Land Law 2001after being detained without charge for a period of 48 hours.

The 13 women are Kong Chantha, Tol Sreypov, Tep Vanny, Pov Sophea, Suong Samai, Pan Chhunret, Heng Nom, Chan Navy, Po Davy, Nguon Kimleang, Song Sreyleap, Chheng Leap and Nget Kun. Seven women were sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison, five-to-two-years (with six months’ suspended sentence), and 72-year-old Nget Khun to a year (with a year and six months’ suspended sentence).

On the same day, the Venerable Loun Savath, a prominent human rights activist and monk, joined some one hundred protestors outside the court. As shown in this video clip, at around 10am, Loun Savath was manhandled and forced into an unmarked Land Cruiser by policemen, army officers and unidentified men.

Savath was then driven to WatBotum Pagoda, where police and officials from the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Cults and Religion barricaded him inside.

As of 4pm, Wat Botum remained completely sealed off, with even fellow monks unable to gain access to the site. It was widely rumoured that Loun Sovathwas going to be defrocked, although he appears to have been spared this punishment at least for the time being. However, he has vowed to continue his activism -- and has already been seen doing so. Last year, LounSavath was banned from entering all pagodas in Phnom Penh as a result of his human rights and community activism.

On the same day, May 24, 170 houses in Koh Nhek district, Mondulkiri province, were burned down by the local authorities, who claimed that the residents were living on land granted by way of an economicland concession to a Vietnamese company for a rubber plantation.

The continuing problem of land evictions and the violent response by local authorities against protesters and communities who are only advocating for their rights to be respected shall no be longer tolerated. These issues would have better results if the authorities focused on peaceful settlements and adhered to human rights principles in the interests of their citizens and in the interests of establishing a country that observes the rule of law.

Pleasesign the petition here:

We, the undersigned group and ordinary citizens; therefore, call on the Royal Government of Cambodia to:

1. Take immediate and peaceful action to resolve all land conflicts arising across the country, to halt all forced evictions of people, and to consult extensively with affected communities to secure long-lasting resolutions.

2. Immediately release villagers and community representatives who have been charged for their advocacy, in particular the women representatives of Boeung Kak Lake jailed on 24 May 2012.

3. Stop harassing and intimidating human rights defenders, such as the Venerable Loun Savath, who was temporarily detained on 24 May 2012 and explain the ground of his detention.

4. Immediately find suitable and appropriate re-settlement sites with all necessary facilities and living conditions for those residents already evicted, such as those from Borei Keila, Boeung Kak, Mondulkiri, Kratie, and so on. A proper living condition in resettlement sites will cost only a minimal budget by investors and developers.

5. Immediately begin full and proper investigations into the death of the 14-year-old girl from Kratie province.

6. Take pride in putting Cambodians' livelihood ahead of the development at the expense of people and children’s rights and lives.

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