A surge in land disputes in Cambodia affected more than three times as many families last year as in 2013, a local rights group said Thursday, urging Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government to address the issue with “long-term lasting solutions” instead of making empty promises.
Rights group Licadho said it documented 10,625 families, or an estimated 49,519 individuals, newly affected by land conflicts in 2014—up from 3,475 families a year earlier and nearly twice as many as the 5,672 families recorded in 2012.
But while the group had publicly condemned the surge as early as April 2014, the government’s response was to hold a press conference at which they claimed Licadho’s findings were “not real.”
Licadho on Thursday called the government’s denial and lack of action “particularly shameful” in light of an incident which occurred four months later, when a 19-year-old Cambodian was shot and killed by soldiers who fired on a group of farmers involved in a land dispute with their unit in Preah Vihear province.
“It's unfortunate that the Cambodian government is making the same promises again and again over land disputes,” Licadho director Naly Pilorge said in a statement.
“The authorities need to address the problem immediately with long-term, lasting solutions.”
Licadho said forced evictions and demolitions have continued in 2015, suggesting the situation will not be any different from last year.
“The root causes of land conflicts have been well-documented: a corrupt and politically-obedient judicial system, the misuse of armed forces, including soldiers, as well as collusion between well-connected companies and authorities,” Licadho technical coordinator Am Sam Ath said.
“This toxic cocktail has been fueling conflicts throughout the country for too long.”
Licadho called for “urgent action” to avoid a continuing trend of destruction related to land disputes affecting families in Cambodia, and urged the government to “recognize the gravity of the situation and undertake meaningful actions immediately.”
Land disputes are a bitter problem for Cambodia, where rural villagers and urban dwellers alike have been mired in conflicts that the U.N.’s special rapporteur for human rights to Cambodia has warned could threaten the country’s stability.
Credible non-governmental organizations estimate that 770,000 people have been adversely affected by land grabbing covering at least four million hectares (nearly 10 million acres) of land that have been confiscated, according to the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).
Last month, Hun Sen marked his 30th year in power by defending his record, including the implementation of land reforms in the aftermath of the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime, which forced large-scale evacuations and relocations, followed by a period of mass confusion over land rights and the formation of squatter communities when the refugees returned in the 1990s.
However, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said in a report that the prime minister’s rule has been characterized by intimidation and political manipulation, and that in recent years his government has created a land crisis that has affected hundreds of thousands of Cambodians.