The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) demanded the government intervene immediately after finding that 98.2 percent of women involved in land disputes with private companies were suffering from serious psychological after-effects and nearly half of the women participating in the survey said they had thought about suicide.
The 38-page report, released yesterday and titled “Cambodia’s Women in Land Conflict,” paints a troubling picture of the situation many women face when dealing with land disputes.
CCHR spoke with 612 women affected by land conflicts in 22 communities in 12 provinces including Phnom Penh between May and June.
More than three quarters of the women surveyed said they felt their status as land and home owners was “unsafe” after their land had been taken from them and nearly a quarter said they had been summarily evicted from their homes.
Of those evicted, 98 percent said they were removed from their homes with force or violence. This violence, in addition to losing their homes, contributed to serious psychological issues many of the women surveyed said they now dealt with on a daily basis.
“Land disputes show a serious psychological impact on women, including 98.2 percent of them suffering from serious mental effects.
Also of concern, 46.2 percent of the women thought about suicide and 18.1 percent had attempted to commit suicide,” the report said.
The report added that land disputes often led to domestic violence within families and 23 percent of women surveyed said their families had seen an increase in dissention within their homes.
Also, 43.9 percent of women stopped sending their children to school because of land disputes and 36 percent were forced to have their children work to supplement the family income due to the loss of their home.
The main source of land conflicts, according to the report, were economic land concessions (ELCs), through which the government has handed more than two million hectares of land to private companies.
This practice, they wrote, was causing more land grabbing and forced eviction cases and has led to a serious abuse of a litany of rights enshrined in the constitution.
“It is estimated that at least 700,000 Cambodian citizens have been affected by land disputes across the country over the last few decades,” the report said.
Vann Sophath, the CCHR’s land reform project coordinator, said land disputes continue to happen across the country and are putting pressure on women, who play important roles in managing land and taking care of families.
“These disputes are causing domestic violence, mental problems and increasing child labor in the country. This should be a factor in urging the government to resolve disputes in the country immediately,” he said.
The government has claimed it is working on the issue, but often rebuffs those who question its statistics and whether they are truly addressing the root causes of the issue.
During a discussion with the US ambassador to Cambodia last month, Minister of Land Management Chea Sophara claimed that more than 7,000 cases of land disputes had been dealt with in the last four months.
He said only 800 cases remained and the ministry was urging 27 working groups to resolve them as soon as possible.
“The ministry’s priority is to work on providing land title registration for citizens across the country, which provides land security and land ownership, land investment and increases in tax revenue and a reduction in land disputes across the country,” he said.
But according to a report released in February by rights group Licadho, 10,625 families comprising 49,519 people in 13 provinces were embroiled in land disputes across the Kingdom. The number of families, up from the 3,475 involved in land disputes in 2013, was called “baseless” in an over-arching criticism by the government.
In March, the Justice Ministry decided to facilitate discussions with judges who preside over cases involving land disputes so that decisions were more accurate. The decision was made after Prime Minister Hun Sen expressed his disappointment over a Kampong Speu Provincial Court decision that sided against a community and ended in the detainment of two women.
Mr. Hun Sen dispatched two of his sons to ensure the women were released after spending days in jail.
When contacted, Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction spokesman Seng Lot said: “Sorry, I’m busy in a meeting.”
The report says women who have had land disputes also have to deal with psycological issues as well as family dissension. KT/Chor Sokunthea