Cablegate: Cambodia Human Rights Roundtable: Land Issues

DE RUEHPF #0360/01 1230523
P 020523Z MAY 08





E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: Prominent human rights organization
leaders ranked land disputes, impunity, limits on freedom of
assembly and the lack of rule of law among their top
concerns, and predict the trends will continue through 2008.
Land grabbers are using some new, fraudulent methods to claim
land. Impunity and the use of the courts for political ends
continued to be problematic. NGO representatives disagreed
on whether a draft demonstration law was more expansive in
protecting freedom of assembly. One NGO stated it is happy
with the new anti-trafficking in persons law. CPP members
allegedly have offered money to some Khmer Kampuchea Krom
individuals to join the CPP and some Khmer Kampuchea Krom
individuals have reportedly been denied national identity
cards for not supporting the CPP. End Summary.

Land Dispute Activity Distressing, "Clever"

2. (SBU) During a recent Embassy roundtable with six
prominent Cambodian human rights leaders, participants said
that land disputes continue to be a top concern. LICADHO
Director Naly Pilorge stated her organization currently has
forty-two of clients seeking assistance in relation to land
disputes, including some who face eviction (clients from the
Dey Krahorm community in Phnom Penh), two who are in prison,
and 18 persons who face charges of incitement and physical
assault. LICADHO has noticed more land dispute cases
involving middle class communities. A recent eviction in the
Russei Keo district of Phnom Penh was one such case involving
middle class families, and families that had connections to
members of the military -- factors which previously might
have worked in favor of persons facing eviction. Pilorge
stated that in the Russei Keo district case, community
members who were arrested during the eviction were released
soon afterwards, possibly because of their connections and
middle-class resources. Pilorge stated she thinks it is a
"mistake" for those with power to engage in land disputes
with the middle class because of the potential for a loss of
popular support.

3. (SBU) CCHR Director Ou Virak said that land grabbers are
currently using "clever methods" to claim land. He mentioned
a Kampong Thom land dispute involving about 550 community
members and approximately 5,000 hectares of land in which
local authorities offered to solve the dispute for the
community members by organizing for a social land concession.
(Note: Under the 2001 Land Law and a March 2003 subdecree on
social land concessions, such concessions are granted by the
RGC for residential and family farming purposes at no cost to
the beneficiary. End note.) The concession seemed like a
good deal to the community members and they signed on. The
documents they signed lacked detailed information and the
community members did not look into the stipulations of
social land concessions before they signed. Ou Virak stated
that it was not until after the paperwork was completed that
the community members realized the subdecree on social land
concessions allows for only about three hectares to be
allocated per family. Some of the families had been on as
many as 75 hectares prior to the social concession. After
the three hectares were doled out to community families,
there were approximately 3,000 hectares of land left over
that were sold for a reported USD 2,500 per hectare in an
economic land concession.

4. (SBU) According to Ou Virak another clever tactic has
been employed in a recent Banteay Meanchey province case:
local authorities used the names of high-ranking government
officials such as Minister of Interior Sar Kheng and
Cambodian National Police Commissioner Hok Lundy on local
land titles in attempts to claim land. Several of the
high-ranking officials whose names were used were reportedly
approached by community members and rights groups during the
disputes. Three of the officials denied any connection with
the cases, stating they did not want their names on the
titles. Ou Virak later provided an update on this case
noting a positive turn. Prime Minister Hun Sen recently gave
remarks stating that all of the land in this Banteay Meanchey
case should be returned to the community members. Notably,
the Prime Minister also stated that sometimes NGOs are right
and he threatened to remove the provincial deputy governor
who is alleged to be complicit in the case. There has not
yet been implementation of Hun Sen's orders.

Education Can End Impunity

PHNOM PENH 00000360 002 OF 003

5. (SBU) Theary Seng concurred with the 2007 Human Rights
Report for Cambodia that impunity continues to be a human
rights hurdle and stated that the trends of impunity and the
use of the courts and the law for political ends show no
signs of decreasing. She said she feels a sense of urgency
to address impunity, in particular in relation to land cases
and in light of the possibility of oil and gas coming online
in Cambodia in coming years. She stated that the problem is
not that there is a lack of knowledge "at the upper level"
where people would be "cutting off their own arms" by
empowering the people. She is striving to get information to
people who may not know their rights as soon as possible.
She stated that education and training on legal rights may
help reduce impunity by providing victims of abuses with
information to help them pursue justice through the legal
system. She noted the USAID-funded Program on Rights and
Justice (PRAJ) as a commendable effort to provide legal
education to Cambodians.

Draft Law on Demonstrations -- Permissive or Restrictive?
--------------------------------------------- ------------

6. (SBU) Both Ou Virak of CCHR and Ang Chanrith of the Khmer
Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Organization stated that the
freedom to demonstrate would continue to be a priority for
their organizations. According to Ang Chanrith,
"Demonstrations and strikes are not easy" because requests to
demonstrate have been denied in the past. (Note: The 2007
Human Rights Report describes problems CCHR and Khmer
Kampuchea Krom organizations have experienced in holding
public gatherings. End note.) Pilorge asserted that the new
draft law on demonstrations was problematic, but others
seemed less concerned. In a previous conversation with a
UNOHCHR Cambodia Office staffperson, Poloff was told that the
UNOHCHR had done some work with the Ministry of Interior on
the draft law and thought the proposed bill would be an
improvement over the current law, passed in 1991. The
current law specifies that organizers must provide written
notification to local authorities and that authorities may
deny permission if they judge the demonstration "might cause
chaos." The law also states that, "Group meetings,
gatherings in public places or public thoroughfares, and
street demonstrations that might affect public peace, order,
or security... are absolutely prohibited." The draft law is
currently under revision with the Ministry of Interior. Post
will continue to monitor the draft law's progress.

CWCC "Happy" With New TIP Law

7. (SBU) The new Executive Director of the Cambodian Women's
Crisis Center, Say Vathany, told the roundtable that she is
looking forward to law enforcement efforts under the new
trafficking in persons law. She said CWCC is "happy" with
the new law. She echoed Theary Seng's comments that impunity
is generally a problem, and that, "even someone with a little
power has impunity." She stated that she has seen cases in
which a husband beats his wife but because the husband is
friends with the police, he is not punished. (Note: and
there is no mechanism for appeal or redress. End note.)

Some Khmer Kampuchea Krom Feel CPP Pressure

8. (SBU) Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Organization
Executive Director ANG Chanrith told the roundtable that he
has heard of cases in which CPP members have paid Khmer
Kampuchea Krom individuals to join the CPP in the runup to
the election. He said "one woman from the Senate" asked him
to join the CPP and said that if he did and if he joined the
Cambodian Red Cross he would be paid USD 500 per month.
(Note: The Cambodian Red Cross is headed by Prime Minister
Hun Sen's wife Bun Rany. End note.) He said that he sought
protection from the United Nations Cambodia Office of the
High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) after he was
approached by the Senator as an advance measure in case he
later experiences intimidation as a follow-on to what so far
has been an attempt to buy him off.

9. (SBU) Khmer Kampuchea Krom rights groups have, in the
past, complained that some Khmer Kampuchea Krom individuals
in Cambodia have difficulties obtaining national identity
cards when they apply for them with the Ministry of Interior
through their local commune council members. Ang Chanrith
stated during the meeting that now, in the run-up to the
election, there have been cases in which CPP commune council
members have refused to issue identity cards to Khmer
Kampuchea Krom persons who do not support the CPP. Ang
Chanrith said that "many" Khmer Kampuchea Krom do not have ID

PHNOM PENH 00000360 003 OF 003

cards and many do not know their rights, particularly women
and those who are illiterate. (Note: National ID cards
facilitate access to poll stations on election day. However,
alternate IDs can also be used to vote. End note.) He said
they are often so focused on trying to meet their daily
living needs that they "ignore their rights" and do not get
involved in political activities.

Update On SRP Member Arrested For Illegal Detention
--------------------------------------------- ------

10. (SBU) LICADHO Director Naly Pilorge referred to the
recent arrest of SRP member Tuot Saron on charges of illegal
detention (Ref B) as a case in which arrests and the courts
are being used by the ruling party to undercut the
opposition. Without citing evidence, Pilorge predicted that
there may be attempts to arrest SRP MP and Sam Rainsy's wife
Tioulong Samura in connection with the case. (Note: Members
of Parliament have immunity in Cambodia. End note.) CCHR
Director Ou Virak stated a common human rights NGO
perspective that there was "no such thing" as the kidnapping
of Tim Norn because alleged victim Tim Norn had access to her
cell phone and her family during the time of the incident.
He also said that the two other SRP members who were expected
to face arrest in connection with the case have already left
for Thailand where they are "safe."


11. (SBU) The human rights leaders were characteristically
pessimistic, as is prone to happen with a goal of attaining
universal standards of human rights in a country with a
history of human rights abuses. The roundtable was also a
prime opportunity for the leaders to get together to vent
their frustrations about a government they presumably would
like to see go away. If asked to compare the Cambodia of
today with that of five, 10, or 15 years ago, they might have
presented a different mood reflective of some positive
changes. However, they would likely also have pointed out
that many of the abuses of the past have not been resolved,
contributing to an air of impunity that remains still today.

12. (SBU) The Cambodian human rights situation has improved
over previous election years, when there were numerous
reports of politically motivated killings and other abuses.
During the roundtable, human rights leaders also discussed
displeasure with the pre-election atmosphere (Post will
address those concerns in a separate pre-election update
cable). Some government officials are receptive to human
rights concerns, such as when Minister of Interior allowed an
opposition march and rally to go forward on April 6 at the
Ambassador's urging (Ref A). Nonetheless, problems remain.
Land disputes, impunity, limitations on freedom of assembly,
and lack of rule of law still head the list of issues that
tarnish Cambodia's international image and limit the freedom
of its people. The embassy will continue to work on these
issues -- both via direct interaction with government
officials and civil society and via USAID's planned
five-year, USD 20 million rule of law program.

© Scoop Media

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