Call for Oversight of Cambodian Land Campaign

A land titling campaign in Cambodia launched and financed by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s lacks transparency and could leave thousands of people landless, a human rights group said Wednesday, urging the country’s donors to push for reform of the program. The campaign, which employs volunteer youth to measure land for villagers, has little oversight and is largely benefiting the rich and well-connected, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement. Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW, praised Hun Sen for his recent suspension of the campaign until after Cambodia’s July 28 national elections, but said that independent organizations must be allowed to monitor the process and intervene on behalf of families negatively affected by the program. … HRW said that according to research it conducted into the efficacy of the campaign over a two-month period in Koh Kong and Kampong Speu provinces, residents in some areas reported positive experiences working with the “Samdech Techo Youth” units—who take their name from Hun Sen’s honorific title—saying they had assisted them in obtaining ownership documentation for land they had long occupied. But in other locations, such as Kampong Speu’s Phnom Sruoch district, villagers run off land their families had farmed since the 1940s said that youth unit leaders had threatened to “throw you in irons and send you to prison” when they tried to plead their cases. … HRW called on donor countries, the World Bank, and the United Nations to insist that the land titling process be “thoroughly revised to ensure adequate public consultation, a transparent process open to independent monitoring and evaluation, adequate compensation for those who are denied title in favor of concession holders or others, and an independent complaint process.”