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Development for Cambodia, but not at any price – UN expert calls for oversight and remedy on land concessions

GENEVA (10 July 2014) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Surya P. Subedi, today called on KDC International Company to halt a contested land development project in Kampong Chhnang province, and urged the Government to exercise proper oversight on land concessions and provide appropriate redress for those affected.

Mr. Subedi also called for calm and restraint from authorities, community members and construction workers involved in the long running and violent land dispute between KDC and families living in Ta Ches commune:

“For more than ten years now, the local community has been embroiled in a dispute over contested land and the complaints that they have sought to lodge with the court system against the authorities and KDC International for the alleged intimidation, violence and land loss, have remained unaddressed.

Every person has the right to a fair trial, both in civil and in criminal cases, and the effective protection of human rights depends on the practical availability to access competent, independent and impartial courts or dispute resolution mechanisms that can, and will, administer justice fairly.

However, in this case, like many others land disputes that have been bought to my attention, I have documented convictions of community members and activists, whilst the company was able to seize possession of disputed land before a decision was rendered by a competent, independent body addressing the community’s claims that the leased land is in fact owned by individual families.

Community members are negotiating compensation for land that they have already been dispossessed of, and are doing so under the threat of arrest.
I call on the company, KDC International, to immediately halt development of contested land until all claims by individual families have been properly assessed by an appropriate independent body in a fair and transparent way. Furthermore, I call on all sides to show restraint and to avoid confrontation and further violence.

The Royal Government of Cambodia is obliged under international human rights law to protect against human rights violations, including those committed by private enterprises. Too often, court cases submitted by families contesting ownership of land with wealthy business owners are denied their day in court, whereas those filed by the company against the villagers have been diligently processed and resulted in numerous convictions.

All persons are equal before the law and are entitled, without any discrimination, to the equal protection of the law. The Government must exercise proper oversight of the business enterprise developing the land concession and provide redress for any harm done.

Forced evictions cannot continue to be justified by claims that those evicted lack documentation or title, or are occupying state land. The majority of households involved in land disputes do not possess secure tenure and are simply unable to access dispute resolution procedures whilst land concessions are continually being developed on unregistered or disputed land.

Until occupants’ rights are properly determined, no eviction is legal.

The human right to adequate housing is the right of every woman, man, youth and child to live in a safe and secure home and community in peace and dignity. It is clear to me that all Cambodians want to see economic development; however this development is discriminatory and unsustainable, with adverse impacts too often felt by local communities who should in fact be the beneficiaries of such development projects.”

Professor Surya P. Subedi was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Cambodia in March 2009. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organisation and serves in his individual capacity. He is currently Professor of International Law at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom and a practising Barrister of the Middle Temple in London. He is the Vice President of the Asian Society of International Law and editor of its flagship publication – the Asian Journal of International Law published by Cambridge University Press. For more information, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/CountriesMandates/KH/Pages/SRCambodia.aspx

The Special Rapporteur has submitted his recommendations in five substantive reports on the situation of human rights in Cambodia. Mr. Subedi will present his latest findings, conclusions and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2014. Check his previous reports: http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?m=107

UN Human Rights, country page – Cambodia: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/KHIndex.aspx 

For additional information and media enquiries, please contact: Ms. Olga Nakajo (+41 22 928 9348 / onakajo@ohchr.org) or write to srcambodia@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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