The PCFS urged United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the situation on human rights in Cambodia Rhona Smith to look into the recent spate of alleged cases of state-perpetrated harassment of peasants and indigenous peoples struggling for their right to land in her review of the human rights situation in Cambodia.
PCFS cited the mobilization of more than a thousand people from different provinces in Cambodia on Nov. 6, 2018 to submit their petitions to various government agencies in Phnom Penh, which was blocked by the authorities.
Smith was still in the country at the time for a post-election mission, upon the invitation of the government. It was her second visit for the year, and it focused on how Cambodia localizes the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Some 500 people from Thbong Khmom province were prevented from entering the capital, while another 660 from the provinces of Sihanouk, Svay Rieng, Preah Vihear, and Kandal were forced by the police to stay in the new freedom park inside the city.
The participants hailed from farming and indigenous communities that are currently facing land disputes with local landlords and Chinese investors. Led by PCFS member Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community (CCFC), the organizers said that they planned to go to the Justice of Ministry, National Assembly, Agricultural Ministry, and Land Management Ministry to demand the immediate resolution of their land cases.
“We are enraged that people were denied of their rights to freely express, assemble, and raise their grievances to the government. This clearly contradicts the freedoms and rights guaranteed to civil society groups,” said Sylvia Mallari, global co-chairperson of PCFS.
The PCFS co-chair also asked Smith to look into the revival of charges against community leaders and development workers in Preah Vihear following a fact-finding mission PCFS co-organized in the province with local group and PCFS member Ponlok Khmer (PKH) as well as with the International Indigenous People’s Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL), Asian Peasant Coalition (APC), and PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) last September.
Four leaders of the province’s Prame commune, inhabited mostly by the indigenous Kuoys, and two staff of PKH were summoned to court on November 5, for a 2014 case concerning the communities’ confiscation of two bulldozers owned by Chinese conglomerate Guangdong Hengfu Group Sugar Industry Company. They were accused of inciting people to prevent government-initiated development, although the bulldozers had been returned to the company last year.
“This is clearly an act of intimidation to pacify the resistance of the affected communities, which is consistent with the mission’s findings that local and national authorities are facilitating Hengfu’s land grabbing,” Mallari said.
The fact-finding mission reported that Hengfu has grabbed more than 13,000 hectares of land in the province. In 2011, the government awarded the Chinese company with an economic land concession (ELC) which now covers around 36,000 hectares. Mallari stressed that land disputes are a pressing concern that require immediate resolution.
“Such repressive actions only affirm the legitimacy of the rural people’s struggles against land grabbing, among the many other violations of their human rights, in Cambodia. The government has chosen to listen to its foreign and corporate backers, at the great expense of the rural communities, the indigenous peoples, and the environment,” Mallari said.
Mallari added that while state repression has been felt in Cambodia for decades, it has intensified in the recent years in what appears to be the government’s efforts to facilitate China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
“Cambodia relies on Chinese investments for its development, and more so now that the BRI is in full swing. [State] repression is always used to give way to foreign megaproject investments, which has wrought havoc on rural and indigenous communities. This is true not only in Cambodia, but as well as in many countries such as Sri Lanka, India, and Philippines,” she said.
The network also hopes that these cases of repression associated with land struggles will be tackled in the Universal Periodic Review of Cambodia by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in January 2019.#