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Powerful ‘Abusing’ Justice System: Amnesty

Cambodia’s poor and powerless are increasingly living in fear, as “the rich and powerful” abuse the criminal justice system, Amnesty International said Thursday.

The prominent rights group issued a report Thursday that examines land-grabs in Cambodia, a continuing problem that observers warn could destabilize the country.

“The rich and the powerful in Cambodia are increasingly abusing the criminal justice system,” said Andrew Syed, Dignity Campaign Coordinator for Amnesty International, at a launching for the report, “Losing Ground.”

The report describes different places where land disputes have occurred: in the provinces of Siem Reap, Battambang, Pursat, Kampong Chnang, Koh Kong, Kratie and in Phnom Penh.

He referred the threats against communities that have taken a stand to file complaints against land concessions or contracts without transparency, which affect the land on which they are living or farming.

Cambodia is facing a chronic problem of land disputes.

According to Ny Chakrya, head of investigation at the rights group Adhoc, since 2006, around 20,000 Cambodian families have been affected by land disputes, and villagers have lost between 24,000 and 94,000 hectares of land.

“Certain institutions, like judicial institutions, are using their rights to settle land dispute cases by using arrests [of villagers] to push them to abandon their complaints,” he said.

According to Adhoc, 150 villagers were arrested in land disputes in 2008, with 50 arrested so far this year.

Ang Vong Vathana, Minister of Justice, could not be reached for comment, but Phay Siphan, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said the abuse of the courts by the rich or powerful was “only an accusation.”