Championing Land Rights

A woman in Cambodia creates the first free legal aid firm for the poor.

2010.12.15
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ith_305 Ith Mathoura (R) stands with U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia Joseph Mussomeli, Cambodian Minister of Women’s and Veterans’ Affairs Ing Khanthaphavy, and Oung Chanthol, another award recipient, at the International Women of Courage Award ceremony, March 12, 2007.
Photo courtesy of State Department

As Cambodia gets deluged with land issues, 30-year-old Ith Mathoura is pioneering an effort to help the underpriviled fight for their rights to hold property.

Daughter of a senior official in the Ministry of Justice and a merchant mother, she received her law degree in 2003 and later founded the Somreth Law Group, a law firm providing free legal services to poor Cambodians.

Most of the firm’s cases are related to land disputes.

In 2007, she received the U.S. State Department’s International Women of Courage award for her work in providing community education and legal aid to minority groups in Cambodia’s Rattanakiri Province.

Before establishing the law firm, Ith Mathoura, who is the oldest among five siblings, worked for a year in 2008 as legal advisor to an international NGO, which had worked closely with the Interior Ministry.

“I think that with the work I do today, I am not just helping those in need but am contributing time and effort to helping society. My law firm is the first to provide free legal services needed by the poor," Ith Mathoura said.

“Presently we have large cases in Kompot Province, in Phnom Penh, in Odar Meanchey Province, and in other provinces. We handle cases involving a variety of issues, but because problems with land have become rampant in Cambodia, most of our cases concern these issues.

“We have trained people in how to analyze the law within the context of land disputes. We have also created posters and distributed them to people in some provinces while explaining their legal rights as property owners and how the law protects those rights. We have also investigated land disputes and have prepared reports and submitted them to higher levels [of authority] for examination.

“We have observed that a majority of land dispute cases involve people who have money and power and who know how to get hold of large pieces of land. In most cases, these disputes arise from land concessions and because of economic development in places where people live in the cities and in the provinces. These are difficult problems to resolve, because the government has already given these parcels of land away.

“I would like to request that everyone consider the law, along with the question of what is right and wrong, and what is  good and bad. We should understand that our actions can have a detrimental impact on other people and can cause many problems and prevent them from living happy lives.”

Interviewed by Naline Pea for RFA’s Khmer service.

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