The impact of economic land concessions on indigenous communities in Preah Vihear Province, Cambodia

Land conflict is an ongoing issue that continues to cause human rights abuse across Cambodia. The widespread granting of land to businesses has seen a new wave of land dispossession across the country. This is in accordance with movements of increasing large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs) across many developing nations. The effects of such land acquisitions are particularly severe in rural areas and amongst indigenous communities. Indigenous communities are increasingly coming under threat as the land they rely on for survival is sold for economic purposes that benefit the country’s elite at their expense. While land conflict in Cambodia is not new, the increasing incidence of land conflict as a result of economic land concessions (ELCs) is worsening and the impact on increasingly marginalised communities warrants immediate attention.

The ELCs in Preah Vihear Province reflect the systematic violations of land rights that take place across many other rural parts of Cambodia. Yet, little attention has been paid to the impacts of land concessions in Preah Vihear. In this report, we focus on ELCs granted in 2011 to five Chinese companies: Lang Feng, Rui Feng, Heng Yue, Heng Rui and Heng Nong. We explore the impact of these five ELCs on indigenous communities. Through our fieldwork, which consists of group interviews and household surveys in the affected districts of Chhaeb, Chey Sen and Tbeng Meanchey, we aim to make a case against these ELCs by sharing the voices of the area’s indigenous communities to demonstrate the many injustices that are occurring over land rights. In doing so, we endeavour to advocate for the protection of indigenous peoples in Preah Vihear Province, and throughout Cambodia.

Our report first examines LSLAs and some key criticisms made against them. We then focus on the issue of ELCs in Cambodia. This includes a brief overview of Cambodia’s history, the rise of ELCs, and the laws and policies currently in place to regulate land issues in Cambodia. Second, we present findings from our fieldwork that highlight the severe and widespread impacts that the ELCs are having on indigenous communities. These impacts include, but are not limited to, harm to community livelihoods, environmental degradation, erosion of indigenous culture, and a failure of the many perceived economic benefits of ELCs to reach these affected indigenous communities. Third, we discuss the limitations of the current legal system and existing land titling mechanisms which are inadequate in protecting the indigenous communities of Preah Vihear. In addition, we examine the companies’ breaches of their legal obligations and their failures to fulfil the necessary requirements for the granting of ELCs. Future strategies to reform land issues in Cambodia are then discussed, where we call for the abolishment of the current ELC system and a move towards investment in land which prioritises Cambodia’s indigenous and rural populations. Lastly, we provide recommendations to non-government organisations (NGOs) in Preah Vihear Province and throughout Cambodia, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction (MLMUPC), companies that have been granted ELCs in Cambodia, and the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC).

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