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Group calls for UN scrutiny over land grabs

Taing Vida / Khmer Times Share:
UN rights envoy Rhona Smith completed her mission in the Kingdom last week. KT/Mai Vireak

A global coalition of grassroots groups has called on the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia to look into cases of land grabbing allegedly perpetrated by the state as part of her review of the human rights situation in the Kingdom.

The People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty in a statement yesterday said that thousands of people from various provinces were mobilised on November 6 to submit petitions to various government institutions in the capital, but were blocked by the authorities.

PCFS said the groups were blocked as UN rights envoy Rhona Smith was in the country meeting with government officials to discuss Sustainable Development Goals.

The gatherings were led by the Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community, a member of the PCFS.

“We are enraged that people were denied their right to express themselves, assemble and raise their grievances to the government,” said PCFS co-chair Sylvia Mallari. “The reasons cited by Cambodian authorities, such as disruption of public order, are unacceptable.”

The PCFS said Ms Smith should look into the revival of charges against community leaders in Preah Vihear, where four activists are being accused of incitement to prevent development.

It noted that the four activists were summoned to court on November 5 to be questioned about the case that occurred in 2014.

A PCFS fact finding mission reported that a Chinese company has grabbed more than 13,000 hectares in the province after it was granted a 36,000-hectare Economic Land Concession by the government in 2011.

The PCFS is hoping that Ms Smith would bring up these issues during the Universal Periodic Review of Cambodia by the UN Human Rights Council in January.

CCFC secretary general Theng Savoeun said the government must be able to ensure freedom of assembly and address problems reported by victims of land grabbing with transparency.

“Land issues are mostly caused by foreign development companies in collaboration with local authorities,” Mr Savoeun said. “We only hope that the government and the international community can tackle these issues.”

Ms Smith could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan responded to PCFS’s statement by calling its statement “fraudulent” and noting it “intends to make Cambodia look bad”.

“The move was prepared in advance – why did all these people come to Phnom Penh to submit their petitions when the UN envoy was in town?” Mr Siphan said. “The group planned it to make the land right situation look worse – we even formed a working group to handle their petitions.”

He noted that the working group was formed last month and is tasked with handling petitions and complaints.

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