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Land

Concessions

A land concession is a grant of rights over an area of land for a specific purpose. In Cambodia land concessions can be granted for various purposes, including agribusiness, redistribution of land to the landless and land-poor, infrastructure development, mining and fishing. They have been a considerable source of land conflict throughout Cambodia. ...

Special economic zones

A Special Economic Zone (SEZ) is a defined area within a country that is subject to different laws and regulations than other areas of the country. These comprehensive industrial areas provide preferential incentives to investors and offer government import-export administrative support to facilitate trade. Though more than 30 SEZs have been registered in Cambodia, only 11 are operational. SEZs are facing challenges in the form of high energy costs and fees. ...

Land classifications

Land in Cambodia is divided into three classifications: private property, state private property and state public property. The distinction between state private property and state public property is essential to determining how state land is to be used. ...

State public land

State public land has a public interest value or provides a public service. The land is inalienable, although it can be leased for limited uses that do not alter or damage its public value. State public land should only be reclassified if the land no longer serves the public interest, performs its original function, or is used by the public. ...

State private land

All land that is not state public property or is not privately owned is de facto state private land. State private land may be sold, exchanged, leased, granted as concessions, or otherwise alienated. ...

Land sales and trades

The legal framework surrounding land sales and transfers was obliterated by the 2007 Civil Code, leaving little legal guidance. Forced land sales and distress sales are a substantial cause of land tenure insecurity in Cambodia. They are a significant cause of landlessness, and it is estimated that between 20 and 40 percent of the country's population is landless. ...

Public land lease

Public land leases are grants of state lands to private entities in the form of a contractual rental agreement. These leases often take the form of land concessions, in particular economic land concessions. They are often associated with land conflicts and disputes. ...

Expropriation

The Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia and the Land Law of 2001 both guarantee an individual’s right to property protection. Though part of the Government’s policy framework since 2002, not until 2010 did a legal framework exist to govern the process by which the government could fairly and justly expropriate private property for public purposes. Forced evictions both by the State and by private entities have long been an issue in Cambodia; though no official data exists, it is estimated that 120,000 people in Phnom Penh have been forcibly evicted since 1990. ...

Land policy and administration

The Royal Government of Cambodia's land policy has three pillars: land administration, land management and land distribution. The objective of the country’s land policy is to facilitate the use and management of land and natural resources for socio-economic development in an equitable and sustainable manner. ...

Land transfers

Land transfers in Cambodia assume a variety of forms involving both public and private entities. The right to transfer property to another and to be protected from forced transfer is essential to land tenure security. Land transfer capacity is a source of value for landowners, who can leverage the right to obtain a higher valued use or access to credit, although this can also be a cause of landlessness and poverty for many in Cambodia. Absent strong protections, land tenure security becomes fragile as small landholders are exposed to risk of forced sales and forced evictions. ...

Development and assistance for land tenure and land titling

Beginning in 2002, the World Bank, Germany, Finland and Canada began a joint-program to promote land tenure security in Cambodia by providing financial and technical support to land titling efforts. Following the eviction of residents of the Boeung Kak Lake area of Phnom Penh due to a breach of the World Bank's safeguard policies, the program reorganized without support from the World Bank. Donor support continued, though Canada and Finland both ceased involvement in 2013. ...

Private land

Rights to private land ownership were guaranteed in the 1993 Constitution and formally established by the 2001 Land Law. Despite an established legal framework to protect private property rights, those rights are often insecure for many. ...

Social land concessions

Social land concessions (SLCs) are intended to provide to the landless or land-poor land on which to establish residences and/or generate income through agriculture. The Cambodian Government that more than 30,000 households have received land as social land concessions. Despite its pro-poor intention, the SLC initiative has faced challenges to its success. ...

Land tenure and land titling NGOs

There are four major international donors to land rights development and reform in Cambodia: the World Bank, Germany, Finland and Canada. Their support spans multiple programs and several years with the overall objective of improving land tenure security and promoting stable land markets. ...

Land tenure and land titling

Land registration and titling of private property has been ongoing for more than a decade. As the Cambodian government works to formally register all private property, there is a dual system of soft possessory rights to be replaced by hard ownership rights through nationally-recognized title. Despite the objective of increasing land tenure security, many landholders, both owners and possessors, continue to face insecurity and risks in the form of land disputes. ...

Land tenure and land titling funding

Funding data on development and assistance to land tenure and titling issues presents an incomplete and conflicting picture. Though various sources exist to track funding, they often present partial information, whether due to temporal constraints or limits to the scope of the data project. 

The Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) and the Cambodian Rehabilitation Development Board (CRDB) jointly publish a database of international NGO and development partner funding information, known as the Cambodia ODA Database. Though the database is thorough, it does not capture fully projects completed prior to the latter half of the last decade. Further, the database conflicts at times with reports from donors themselves. For example, the ODA’s “Project List by Sector and Status” reports that the World Bank provided the Land Allocation for Social and Economic Development Project (LASED) with US$14,378,088. However, the World Bank’s project profile of LASED reports that it committed US$11,500,000 to the project while Germany provided another US$1,200,000.

Multiple other projects attempt to aggregate NGO and development partner donation data. The International Aid Transparency Initiative publishes data on donations from both bilateral donors and international NGOs, though data published on the site is self-reporting. Additionally, the Global Donor Working Group on Land and USAID published a map visualizing donations to land governance programs by bilateral donors, multilateral donors, and development agencies. However, it too is limited in capacity; the earliest recorded project is LASED, which commenced in 2008, and no funding information for the project is provided. While these various sources demonstrate that significant funds are flowing into Cambodia, international funds are not completely or accurately tracked in one place.

Related to land tenure and land titling funding

Last updated: 1 November 2015

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Landmines UXO and demining

Cambodia is one of the countries most affected by land mines and explosive remnants of war as a result of its tumultuous history. The country is working with a variety of partners to demine the country by 2019. ...

Communal land

Though there are multiple forms of communal property, the rights associated with indigenous communal property are subject to significant legal and socio-economic issues. Indigenous communities are culturally very different from the rest of Cambodia, and the law provides them with the opportunity to obtain collective title over communal land. However, the process of ensuring indigenous communal rights has been slow and fraught with land disputes. ...

Land

Land lies at the center of debates about Cambodia’s socioeconomic development. For farmers in the fertile lowlands, private land ownership rights have enabled recovery of their livelihoods after decades of conflict. Meanwhile, the resource rich uplands and border areas have been the site of large scale land acquisitions for cash crop production and extractive industries. The resulting displacement and land disputes have spread to urban and lowland areas, resulting in one of the highest rates of land inequality in Asia.

Prior to the French colonial time, all land in Cambodia belonged to the King. The notion of land ownership was introduced under the French Protectorate and was maintained in the post-independence era until the abolition of private property by the Khmer Rouge. The Paris Peace Agreement in 1991 ended Vietnamese occupation and established a market economy, leading to the restoration of private land ownership in the 1993 Constitution.

Agriculture is the main occupation for over 70 percent of Cambodians. Rice production relies on the availability of arable land and irrigation systems. In addition to local market demands, the government has set a rice export target of 1 million tons per year. Achieving this target would require an expansion of cultivated land and nearby water sources, a serious challenge in present conditions of drought.

 Land policy and classifications

Since 2001, when the Land Law was passed, the Cambodian government has made progress in developing policy, regulatory and administrative frameworks for land management. The Land Law introduced three main land categories: 

  • State land, in two sub-categories:

    • State public land has public interest value, containing things like lakes or mountains, ports or airports, roads or public parks, schools, hospitals, protected areas, historical sites, or official properties of the Royal Family. State public land cannot be sold or granted as economic land concessions (ELCs), although it can be leased for up to 15 years.

    • State private land  does not have public interest value as mentioned above. It can be sold or leased, including long-term leases and land concessions for agro-industrial businesses, but any such transfer must follow legal procedure.

  • Collective property is in two sub-categories:

    • Monastery property, land and structures existing within the premises of Buddhist monasteries.

    • Indigenous property, lands where the indigenous communities have established their residences and where they carry out traditional agriculture.

  • Private land is legally owned or possessed by persons or a company.

The Land Law provides for the issuing of large scale land concessions to domestic and foreign investors. While there are constitutional provisions for private ownership in Cambodia through fully transferable land title, the majority of unsurveyed and untitled land remains the property of the State, facilitating the granting of concessions on that land. Communal land titles are recognized, but the law sets up a number of hurdles that have made application for communal land tenure recognition a drawn out process. Applicants must choose either private or indigenous recognition; the two forms cannot be combined.

Land tenure rights

Beginning in 2002, the government– with donor support – began to systematically classify and register all land parcels according to the categories detailed in the 2001 Land Law. In registering all land, the programme aimed to remove uncertainty over land ownership that caused conflicts and tenure insecurity. A Cadastral Commission was set up to resolve disputes arising during the course of land registration. The Rectangular Strategy for Growth, Employment, Equity and Efficiency in Cambodia included commitments to step up distribution of land to the poor and to provide titles to secure legal ownership.

Up to the end of 2015, the government has handed over 4.15 million private land titles, representing 59 percent of the estimated total number of land parcels nationwide.  Registration of titles in 2015 was 7 percent higher than the previous year. The National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP) for 2014–2018 emphasizes the importance of continuing with land reforms. I n October 2015, Im Chhun Lim, Minister of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, announced targets of 70 percent of land titles by 2018, and 100 percent by 2020.

In previous land registration efforts, many communities may have been arbitrarily excluded, especially low-income households in high-value urban areas or where ELCs operate. Studies suggest that the Cadastral Commission has been responsible for overseeing land registration, but it suffers from bureaucracy and corruption, and the pace of registration has been slow. These problems are viewed less as an absence of policy but rather limitations in law enforcement and irregularities in the implementation of existing legislation.

Tenure insecurity is linked to disputes over ownership. Many low-income households live on land where ownership is not recorded in the national land registration system. In these cases, households are protected under possession rights (paukeas) instead of the stronger legal category of ownership rights (kamaset). According to law, only legal possessors have the right to become owners, while households who possess land illegally do not. For instance, any occupation of state private land is considered as null and invalid. In practice, NGOs observe that possession may be legal, but residents are often evicted.

Families with less than 1 hectare rice land

Source: National Committee for Sub-National Democratic Development (2011). Created by Open Development Cambodia, December 2015. Licensed under CC-BY-SA 4.0. Explore the data. Visit Map explorer tool.

In a survey of landholding patterns in 433 villages, Oxfam found that “12 percent of owners with holding of greater than 3 hectares each owned a total of 72 percent of the land.” In rural areas, where over 80 percent of the population resides, GIZ reported landlessness at 20 percent, and 40 percent of the households with under 0.5 hectares of farm land. Besides issues of ownership and title, safety remains a concern in some areas because of landmines, and demining work continues.

 Land transfer and public land lease

Nearly 12 percent of the country’s land area, or about 2 million hectares, has been granted to investors under terms of economic land concessions. In addition, 704,592 hectares have been granted mining licenses, and 305,405 hectares assigned to 72 hydropower projects. Through concessions, land is leased to local and foreign investors for agroindustry businesses, energy generation, and extractive industry. In total, a 2013 study found that “3.9 million hectares, or some 22 per cent of the country, is now controlled by the private sector and particularly the local elites”. In contrast to their large land area, ELCs make only modest contributions to economic development, generating only US$ 5 million in government revenue in 2015.

Mining Licenses

 

Source: Ministry of Mines and Energy and various sources such as news, company profiles, NGO reports and other publications (1995-2014). Created by Open Development Cambodia, December 2015. Licensed under CC-BY-SA 4.0. Explore the data. Visit Map explorer tool.

In May 2012, the government adopted Order 01BB on Measures for Strengthening and Increasing the Effectiveness of the Management of Economic Land Concessions, suspending the granting of new ELCs and calling for a review of existing concessions. Since then, over 1 million hectares of forest land leased by private companies has been put back under government control. According to a statement by the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, at least “370,000 hectares of land has been cut out of ELCs from 134 companies and more than 250,000 hectares of land has been cut from state-owned land and seized forest land.”

Land dispute resolution

Over the last twenty years, Cambodia’s development trends have been underlined by widespread land disputes and violations of land rights. Issues surrounding ELCs and other extractive and agribusiness expansion are the principle causes of violations of private property and other human rights abuses. Land disputes have been particularly numerous in upland areas, where many resource extraction projects are based and migrants from other provinces have moved into land used by local residents. A second major arena for land disputes is in urban areas, especially Phnom Penh and neighboring provinces, and on both sides of Tonle Sap Lake.

Despite recent legal and institutional reforms on the management of ELCs and protected areas, land disputes have spread across the country with no signs of relief.  In 2015, LICADHO reported that the number of land disputes had increased threefold in the past year. Cumulatively over time, more than 500,000 people have reportedly been affected. Sar Sovan, secretary of state at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, said that the government has its own, more accurate figures. According to figures collected by the ministry, “of every 1,000 land titles [issued, there are just] three or four conflicts.” Sovan added that in the 357 communes across the country in which land titling has taken place, land conflicts are not a major problem. “On average, one village has disputes [affecting] less than one person,” he said. Additionally, the ministry had settled 3,335 land conflicts on its own “outside the courts”.

Land conflicts frequently end in eviction. In Phnom Penh alone, NGOs report that nearly 30,000 families have been evicted from their homes in the last 25 years. In a July 2015 report, local rights group ADHOC said that in the first six months of the year, it received 66 complaints of land rights violations affecting more than 3,500 families on more than 8,600 hectares of land.

In the future, ELCs will likely no longer be the sole and dominant factor contributing to land disputes, as the government is speeding up registration of land titles and an inventory of the state land, including in protected areas, a joint effort of the Ministry of Environment (MoE), and Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF). However, growing inequality of land access, ineffective land management for sustainable development, and a shift in geo-location of land disputes will become core issues. Large-scale land acquisition for agribusiness and contract farming appear to be the main driving forces behind growing inequality in land access and may bring new threats to secure land tenure.

Last updated: 20 June 2016

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