PHNOM PENH (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A software tool to help poor urban Cambodians facing eviction get secure land titles can also be used in rural areas where tens of thousands of people are snared in conflicts over land, according to the rights group that designed the technology.
iTenure uses geographic and legal data to determine the status of the land and produces a customised package that includes a map and legal advice on strengthening tenure claims.
Developed by non-profit groups People in Need (PIN) and Open Institute, the tool collates information from Open Tenure, an application that allows residents to capture tenure rights.
“The people who face land tenure insecurity and are prone to evictions are usually the poor, the less educated, and minority and indigenous communities,” Paul Conrad, PIN’s Cambodia director, said.
“They may have lived there for years but have no formal title. This tool makes it easy for them to determine how strong their claim is, and what they should do to get a legal title.”
Cambodia has been a hotbed of land conflict since the Khmer Rouge regime’s destruction of property records to establish a form of communism in the 1970s.
Hundreds of thousands of farmers were forced off their land. Many moved to cities and built homes they have lived in since.
But the only indisputable proof of ownership is a land title certificate that many of them do not possess. The laws related to land expropriation and titling can be complex and confusing, as also the legal processes to secure tenure.
iTenure categorises claims into six types, ranging from a strong claim for legal possession to an unlikely one. Users can access their package through an interactive voice response system in Khmer language from their mobile phones.
PIN has used the tool to help nearly 700 families living alongside the Tonle Sap river in Phnom Penh to claim tenure, said Conrad. They were at risk of being evicted under a plan to widen a national highway.
With clear titles, it is also possible to redevelop the land, which residents prefer to resettlement, Conrad said.
Local officials are happy to cooperate, as this helps reduce conflicts and allows for commercial development, he added.
PIN plans to reach more urban poor in Phnom Penh, and also extend the tool to rural communities in Cambodia and in other countries in the region, he said.
About 88 percent of land conflicts in Southeast Asia remain unresolved since 2001, pitting companies
and businesses against rural communities, according to research by TMP Systems and the Rights and Resources Initiative.
“A technology such as this goes a long way in building confidence of these vulnerable communities and reducing conflicts,” said Conrad.