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UN Rights Envoy Warns Against Continued Landlessness

Surya Subedi, U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia, speaks during a press conference in Phnom Penh, file photo.

Surya Subedi, the UN’s human rights envoy to Cambodia, expressed concern Friday over land concessions provided to private companies that are forcing people from their land in the provinces.

The envoy, who addressed reporters Friday, visited the northeastern provinces of Kratie, Ratanakkiri and Stung Treng in his seventh fact-finding mission to the country. He urged the government to find a “workable solution” to the ongoing problem of land displacement, including the “right to remedy” for those who pushed from their land for economic developments. But he also said the government should not have to go it alone.

“Clearly the royal government has the primary responsibility for respecting, protecting and fulfilling the rights of its people,” he said. “However business also has a role to play.”

Land concessions could play a positive role in the economy if done properly, Subedi said. However, communities are rarely included in decisions or notified of economic concessions.

An estimated 2.3 million hectares were given over as concessions to private companies in recent years, the rights group Adhoc recently reported. Many of the concessions push families from their homes, often leading to demonstrations.

“The level of protests linked to land disputes—which are often violent—is a great cause of concern to me,” he told reporters. “Protests create enormous challenges for the authorities, particularly the provincial authorities. Some forms of protest, for example road blockages by communities, greatly impact on other individuals who have no involvement in the dispute.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen said earlier this month he was imposing a temporary halt on new concessions, to make way for greater scrutiny of their approval. However, critics say that such measures will do little to curb the ongoing practice.

Subedi said Friday the measure was a “step in the right direction” but needed to be properly implemented.