Tag Archives: Phnom Penh

NGO’s plan for ethical land eviction of riverside community

29 Aug
Source: Phnom Penh Post,by: Bennett Murray ,Sat, 29 August 2015

Under national law, riverbanks are state property. Kimberley Mccosker

The garbage-strewn, riverside area that contains Chrang Chamres commune may be unsightly, but the local Cham community fears that a future away from their niche in Phnom Penh’s far north would be far worse.

“If our houses are destroyed, how much will the government compensate us?” said Him Tola, deputy chief of the commune’s Chrang Chamres I village.

“We won’t be able to live with our relatives, and if the government evicts us from here to a relocation site, we will lose our jobs here,” he added.

It’s a common refrain. Over the years, numerous communities across Phnom Penh have been forced from their land and dumped on far away relocation sites with little or no amenities or prospects of earning a living.

However, residents and NGO workers are hopeful that Chrang Chamres will turn a page in the city’s checkered developmental history.

Piotr Sasin, country director of Czech-funded People in Need, said the NGO had developed a plan for the communes incorporating “human rights-based spatial planning” balancing economic development with the needs of the existing residents.

With careful planning and the political will, he added, even ambitious urban development needn’t require mass evictions.

“What we’re trying to do is generate a solution that will be win-win, so the city can develop and look better in a more engineered, organised manner, but at the same time, the people who have lived here can stay on their land,” said Sasin, who is partnered with local NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut.

Senate Vote Paves Way for Lawmakers’ Arrests

19 Aug
Source: Cambodiadally  ,BY ALEX WILLEMYNS | AUGUST 19, 2015

The seven opposition CNRP lawmakers charged last year with “leading an insurrection” could be arrested and imprisoned in the same way that opposition Senator Hong Sok Hour was arrested and imprisoned over the weekend, Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said Tuesday.

On orders from Prime Minister Hun Sen, who was angered by a doctored diplomatic treaty the senator presented in a Facebook post, Mr. Sok Hour was charged on Sunday with forgery and incitement and sent to Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison despite his immunity as a senator.

Although the ruling CPP easily has the two-thirds majority in the Senate to remove Mr. Sok Hour’s immunity and legitimize the legal process, its senators met on Monday evening and decided it was not necessary to do so, citing an exception in the Constitution that allows arrests for crimes caught in “flagrante,” or in the act of being committed.

Mr. Malin said that the same legal reasoning could be applied to the seven CNRP members of the National Assembly whose “insurrection” charges over a violent Freedom Park protest on July 15 last year remain hanging over them.

“They share the similarities in that there is no need to seek the approval to remove the immunity,” Mr. Malin said. “However, if they want to remove the charges, they need to seek the three-quarters approval of the National Assembly.”

Besides requiring a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly —or Senate—to remove a lawmaker’s immunity, the Constitution allows either legislative body to seek a three-quarters majority to overrule the courts and remove a lawmaker’s charges.

Asked specifically whether authorities could arrest the seven charged CNRP lawmakers despite their immunity, which is protected by the CPP’s lack of a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, Mr. Malin said they could.

“Yes, of course, it is permitted. It is the same for members of the Senate and National Assembly. For non-flagrant cases, they need to remove the immunity. For flagrant cases, they do not need to. It is not the two-thirds process,” he said.

“If they want to stop the prosecution, they must get the three-quarters to remove the charge,” Mr. Malin reiterated.

Article 80 of the Constitution—like Article 104, upon which the Senate based its decision on Mr. Sok Hour—provides an exception to immunity of National Assembly members when police catch them in the act of committing a crime.

“The accusation, arrest, or detention of an assembly member shall be made only with the permission of the National Assembly…except in case of flagrante delicto. In that case, the competent authority shall immediately report to the National Assembly or to the Standing Committee for decision,” it says.

Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said the CPP-controlled Senate’s decision not to exercise its power to strip Mr. Sok Hour’s immunity on Monday evening but to let him be imprisoned anyway was a clear attempt to set a new precedent.

“This is an unconstitutional act that creates a precedent that the members of the parliament have no immunity at all, because now they can arrest anyone without lifting their immunity. Without immunity, they have nothing,” Mr. Panha said.

“It will allow the executive to put the members of the National Assembly in jail, and there will be no reason to lift their immunity,” he said. “It is not only those seven lawmakers [who risk arrest], but there could be many more.”

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said he believed the Justice Ministry’s interpretation of “flagrante delicto” exceptions was a perversion of a clause meant only to allow police to intervene when lawmakers are in the act of committing a crime.

“It is very far-fetched. It is wrong and it is a distortion of the spirit of immunity,” Mr. Rainsy said by telephone before boarding a flight to Melbourne for a trip with deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha to meet supporters in Australia.

However, Mr. Rainsy said he would not be surprised if such an interpretation of immunity was used by the government, and suggested that only by keeping up his good relations with Mr. Hun Sen could he prevent attacks on the opposition.

“Anything is possible in Cambodia, and that is why you have to address the source of the problem, and I am trying to defuse the source of the tension. We do not want to give any pretext to anybody to crack down on us,” he said.

Sok Sam Oeun, a prominent human rights lawyer, said no precedent had been set since the 1993 Constitution was promulgated to interpret what constitutes a “flagrante” offense.

“In our law, it is not very clear. It is up to the Senate to interpret it as they wish. If they commit a violent crime like killing, it might apply. They could interpret it as a flagrant case, even if the arrest was not on the spot, but soon after,” Mr. Sam Oeun said.

“In this case, it was not a violent crime,” he said of Mr. Sok Hour’s arrest. “It is only a document, so I believe it is not a flagrant case, and they have to ask to remove the immunity.”

Mr. Hun Sen himself has repeatedly threatened to have the CNRP’s seven lawmakers arrested, arguing publicly that the immunity held by the lawmakers was a moot point.

“The seven lawmakers will still be jailed because you received immunity after you were charged,” Mr. Hun Sen said in January.

“Please study the law. Your side knows the law and our side knows the law,” the prime minister said. “Those who are on bail are only out temporarily, so the trial must proceed.”



Crowds ‘Say No’ to LANGO

7 Jul
Source: Phnom Penh Post,By Taing Vida and Khouth Sophak Chakrya,Wed, 8 July 2015

People sit on a barricade holding banners yesterday near the National Assembly during a protest against the contentious draft law on NGOs. Vireak Mai

More than 300 civil society representatives, diplomats and opposition members yesterday attended a consultation to voice concerns over the controversial draft NGO law, a parliamentary vote on which was reportedly delayed until next week.

The national consultation, organised by the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC) and held at the Cambodiana Hotel, coincided with yet another march on parliament by hundreds of opponents of the legislation.

The draft bill – which the government says is needed to regulate the sector and stop rogue operators – was again criticised for placing undue restrictions on NGOs and undermining civil society’s role in the Kingdom.

“The stance of civil society groups is still that the government needs to consult more widely, because many of the new articles in the draft deliberately curb freedom of forming NGOs, associations, freedom of assembly, and leave groups exposed to deregistration and fines,” said CCC executive director Soeung Saroeun.

Saroeun acknowledged some positives in the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations (LANGO), but said 70 per cent of the draft was contrary to Cambodia’s constitution as well as national and international laws.

Preap Kol, head of Transparency International Cambodia, said the draft law’s provision on exempting foreign aid delivered via NGOs from tax was positive but ultimately unnecessary, as it was covered in existing legislation.

Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, called for action to halt the proposed law.

“This involvement is not just a formality, even though there is a small amount of time left, we can still show the unacceptable position of this draft,” she said.

Also yesterday, hundreds of activists protested the bill outside parliament.

Holding banners and shouting anti-LANGO slogans, the group was confronted by more than 100 security guards, though no clashes were reported.

The Venerable Proem Houn, who was among the protesters, said the government should focus its energy on solving land disputes and reducing poverty rather than creating oppressive legislation.

“The creation of this law is aimed at restricting the right to freedom of expression and gathering of citizens,” Houn said.

“This shows that democracy in the country is in recession”.

Meanwhile, Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator with human rights group Licadho, yesterday said protesters were told by officials that the National Assembly’s extraordinary session to vote on the law, initially scheduled for Friday, according to reports, had been postponed until Monday.

According to Licadho’s website, the group has seen official documents to this effect.

This morning, the parliamentary Commission on Foreign Affairs will host a public workshop on the NGO law at the National Assembly, while in the afternoon, members of the Foreign Affairs, Legislation and Justice and Interior Affairs commissions will quiz government officials about the legislation.

NGO law in crosshairs

1 Jul
Source: Phnom Phenh Post, By Pech Sotheary and Ethan Harfenist,Wed, 1 July 2015

Demonstrators shout slogans at the National Assembly yesterday morning during a protest against the proposed NGO law. Vireak Mai

Despite the deployment of law enforcement officials across the capital in a bid to halt the demonstration, activists yesterday marched as promised to the National Assembly to protest the looming adoption of highly controversial union and NGO laws.

Starting at about 8am, hundreds of land activists, environmentalists, monks, civil society members and ordinary citizens gathered at four starting points: the Niroth pagoda in Chbar Ampov commune, Wat Chak Angre Leu, the 7 January flyover and the French Embassy.

As participants began their march toward the National Assembly, banners and flags in hand, authorities armed with shields and batons quickly began to seize materials and block their paths, leading to verbal altercations and some pushing in the process, though no serious violence was recorded.

In demonstrators’ crosshairs were the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations, or LANGO, as well as a law governing the nation’s trade unions. Both have been widely criticised for vague language many fear will give the government license to broadly inhibit their ability to operate. Both could pass before the month ends.

While the heavy police presence at the staging areas dissuaded a significant percentage of activists, perhaps half continued on to the National Assembly at about 11am, when police began to dissipate.

With music blaring, protesters sang and danced, often with their thumbs down, shouting “No to LANGO”, while lotus petals were thrown and balloons released into the air. At one point, a group of CNRP lawmakers made their way into the crowd to join the demonstrators.


Protesters are stopped by authorities yesterday as they try to march through the streets of Phnom Penh. Vireak Mai

Police, Guards Block Marches Against NGO Law

1 Jul
Source: The Cambodia Daily, By Kuch Naren and Mech Dara | July 1, 2015

Phnom Penh City Hall made good on its promise to stop a set of planned protest marches Tuesday against a draft law aiming to regulate the country’s NGOs, deploying hundreds of security guards and police around the capital to stop the demonstrators in their tracks.

Hundreds of NGO workers, unionists and activists were planning to converge on the National Assembly from four separate locations to ask lawmakers not to pass the law, despite a threat from the municipality to use “any means” to stop them.


Protesters scuffle with government security guards during their attempt to march to the National Assembly in Phnom Penh on Tuesday to demonstrate against a proposed law that would regulate NGOs and associations. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

City Hall said any march would be illegal because the organizers had failed to ask for permission. And as promised, it deployed hundreds of government security guards and police wielding shields and batons to each of the four locations where the demonstrators gathered Tuesday morning.

“We tried to tell them not to hold an illegal rally because the law is still under discussion and consultation, so they should not protest because the law is not a law yet,” said City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche.

At the 7 Makara Skybridge on Kampuchea Krom Boulevard, about 200 protesters pushed their way past the first line of security and managed to march about a kilometer toward the city center, but were stopped by a makeshift barricade of police motorcycles. Some of the marchers had their protest banners confiscated.

“These aren’t Cambodian forces…. Their act to block our peaceful rally is unacceptable because they stopped us from voicing our concerns,” said Ouk Pich Samnang, one of the protesters.

“We just want to express our opinions against the NGO law because it will severely restrict the freedom of human beings and rights workers,” he said.

Should the draft become law, said Ou Tepphallin, deputy head of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation, “Cambodia will no longer be a democratic country.”


People protest in front of the National Assembly in Phnom Penh on Tuesday against a proposed law that would regulate the country’s NGOs. (Satoshi Takahashi)

Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho, said authorities detained two protesters who were preparing to march from Meanchey district and took them to the district police station, but later let them go.

Though prevented from marching, about 200 of the protesters regrouped in front of the National Assembly later in the morning, once authorities removed barricades set up around the compound at the end of the morning’s plenary session.

Undeterred by the police clampdown, Mr. Sam Ath said opponents of the NGO law would keep protesting against the legislation until it was withdrawn from parliament or amended to their satisfaction.

“We will continue to agitate like the drizzling rain even if the law is passed until it is amended,” he said. “If it is not changed, the National Assembly does not have to pass the law because it violates the people’s rights and contradicts the Constitution.”

The law would require all NGOs and associations in the country to register with the government in order to keep operating and to file annual reports on their finances and activities. It would also give the executive branch the power to shut them down. Critics fear that overly vague and broad provisions will give the government undue powers to silence its critics.

Lawmakers are scheduled to meet with NGOs at the National Assembly on July 10 to discuss the draft.

Family Convicted of ‘Violence’ Over Land Scuffle

29 Jun
Source: The Cambodia Daily ,By Ben Sokhean | June 29, 2015

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday convicted a couple and their daughter of using violence against a property owner, although the plaintiff dropped his complaint against them last month.

Ly Srea Kheng, 58, has battled tycoon Khun Sear and his eponymous import-export company over a plot of land in Tuol Kok district for the past five years, enduring a campaign of intimidation—allegedly waged by thugs hired by Mr. Sear’s firm—for refusing to accept compensation and move.

In November, Mr. Srea Kheng, along with his wife, daughter and son, were charged with using violence during a 2013 scuffle with the company’s security guards.

After his daughter spent just over five months in jail, Mr. Srea Kheng finally accepted compensation—a $180,000 deal that also saw the company withdraw its complaint against the family over the scuffle.

Contacted Sunday, however, Presiding Judge Svay Tonh said he convicted Mr. Kheng, his wife and their daughter on Thursday and handed each of them a six-month suspended sentence, while dropping the charges against their son.

“I cannot give you more detail,” Judge Tonh said.

Ly Seav Minh, 24, Mr. Kheng’s daughter, said the verdict was a final injustice against the family, who vacated the contested plot earlier this month and moved to Sen Sok district.

“I have a broken heart because we did nothing wrong, but the court still convicted us,” she said.

Ms. Seav Minh said the deal with Mr. Sear was finalized on May 28, with both sides agreeing to drop complaints against the other.

“We decided to leave the land because we received better compensation to create a new life, and we wanted to end this complicated problem,” she said.

Activists detained over unsanctioned march

26 Jun
Source: Phnom Penh Post,Pech Sotheary,Fri, 26 June 2015

Three environmentalists and a rights worker were detained yesterday for more than two hours and blocked from delivering a petition to the National Assembly calling on the government to order sand-dredging operations in Koh Kong province to cease.

Three activists from NGO Mother Nature – Dim Kundy, Sorn Chandara and Chek Nitra – were held along with Dith Sothy of rights group Adhoc.

The activists, accompanied by a handful of others, were blocked by Daun Penh and Chamkarmon district security forces, which had set up roadblocks to stop them.

Kundy of Mother Nature said Vietnamese firm International Rainbow Co, which has been dredging sand on the Koh Kong river, had the backing of the state as evidenced by the treatment they received in custody.

“We came here to express our freedom of speech, but our rights were stifled and we were blocked. They slapped my team. Democracy in this country is taking a nosedive.”

Chor Kimsor, deputy governor of Chamkarmon district, who sits on the body in charge of deploying district forces to protests, the Unified Command Committee, said the actions of the activists were illegal.

“If you want to do anything, you have to submit a request to City Hall,” he said.

All four arrestees, however, were released without charge after two hours.

They were made to sign a statement pledging to request permission in future if they wished to deliver a petition to parliament.

NGO boss out on lack of evidence

26 Jun
Source: Phnompenh Post,Chhay Channyda,Fri, 26 June 2015

he director of a Phnom Penh children’s NGO arrested over allegations of abuse was released from police custody on Wednesday due to a lack of evidence, police said yesterday.

Mao Soeuth, deputy police chief in Chbar Ampov district, confirmed that Soy Srey On, 23, director of Bethel Children’s Home of Cambodia, was “released and returned home”.

Another district police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Srey On “has been put under police monitoring”, but was released because there was “no evidence”.

Srey On was arrested following a complaint from the NGO’s principal donor, Chloe Flanagan, who alleged that she beat and neglected children, and had sex with her boyfriend in front of them.

Ministry of Social Affairs officials removed four children from the centre on Tuesday.

In an interview yesterday, Srey On admitted to “whip[ping] [children] a little bit with a stick to give them discipline”, but maintained she had “permission from their parents to do so”.

She also admitted to giving the children their meals late, but denied the allegations of public sex.

Social Affairs official Em Chanmakara said the decision to release Srey On was a police matter.

VN gov’t to respond to border allegations

25 Jun
Source: Phnom Penh Post,By Meas Sokchea,Thu, 25 June 2015

People inspect a pond last month that was allegedly constructed by Vietnamese in Ratanakkiri province. The Vietnamese government is to investigate the claims following a meeting with Hor Namhong. ADHOC

Study: World Bank Project for Landless Families Is Failing

24 Jun
Source: The Cambodia Dialy,By Zsombor Peter | June 24, 2015

A seven-year project funded by Germany and the World Bank to give secure and fertile land to some of the country’s poorest families has so far mostly failed to deliver on its goals and left most of the families no better off, according to a new study.

The study by rights group Licadho, “On Stony Ground: A look into social land concessions,” contradicts the World Bank’s own glowing review of its work.

Licadho urges against using the project as a model for a planned second phase, which, if approved, would effectively lift a freeze on new lending to Cambodia the Bank imposed four years ago, precisely because of the government’s poor record on land rights.

“While additional support is needed to meet the promises of reduced poverty and increased food security for many of the families supported by LASED [Land Allocation for Social and Economic Development], the World Bank and GIZ [Germany’s foreign aid agency] first need to acknowledge that the project is far from a replicable model, and nowhere near a success story by any standards,” the report said.

In 2008, Germany and the World Bank put up a combined $12.7 million—most of it came from the Bank—to find 10,000 hectares across the country to give to more than 3,000 poor families with little or no land. With the Land Management Ministry’s help, they eventually secured eight social land concessions in three provinces: Kompong Cham, Kompong Thom and Kratie.

In its last review of the project, in December, three months before it ended, the World Bank gave itself solid marks across the board. It said all four of its main goals had been met. The 3,000-plus families had all been assigned land for homes, farms, or both, and nearly 60 percent of them had moved in. Of the families who had moved in, the Bank said all of them had started farming and that their incomes had, on average, more than quadrupled.

“The activities and accomplishments have provided good lessons learned for the identification, development and sustainability of future [social land concession] sites,” the Bank said at the time.

But Licadho, which visited all eight concessions between October and March, says the reality for many of the families at all but one of the sites is not so rosy. It says many of the families complained of land that was too sandy or rocky to farm, or covered in forest they lacked the tools to clear, plots mired in land disputes, and sites missing promised infrastructure, schools or clinics.

“Numerous villagers at seven of the eight sites reported limited ability to use the allocated agricultural plots and hence gained no significant improvement in terms of food security,” it said. “As a result, poverty reduction was not achieved at the end of the project for the majority of the land recipients.”

According to the report, the government knew that at least two of the chosen sites were mostly covered with “poor” soil as early as 2006—two years before the project even began—thanks to a joint study by international consultants and local officials.

Licadho says some families have been forced to take on new debt to get by, find work as day laborers because their new farms were failing, or turn to logging.

As a consequence, the rights group says, some families have given up on the concessions and left. Based on its visits, it estimates that fewer than half of the families assigned plots were occupying them, well below the nearly 60 percent previously claimed by the World Bank.

One of the main goals of the LASED project is to give the families a piece of land they can own. But Licadho says the scheme is failing on that front, too.

By law, a family must occupy a plot on a social land concession for five consecutive years to qualify for a land title. But families that have been living on the sites for up to six are still waiting. Families that gave up and left, or intend to because their plots are of poor quality, may never receive a title.

Some families have struggled to use their plots because they are claimed by someone else.

“With the low settlement rates and limited use of agricultural land observed by Licadho…many land recipients risk failing to meet these conditions due to poor implementation of the project,” Licadho said. “Tenure security is by no means guaranteed for a sizeable part of the more than 3,000 land recipients.”

Officials at the Ministry of Land Management could not be reached yesterday. Neither the World Bank nor GIZ responded a request for comment.

Due to its shortfalls, Licadho said, the project “has failed to achieve the levels of success required to be considered a replicable model to reduce poverty and increase food security for rural landless and poor Cambodians.”

But that is exactly what is happening.

In a 2014 report on the project, Germany said the Cambodian government was already replicating the approach in six provinces.

The World Bank is also preparing a second, $27-million phase to the project that would improve the eight sites already established and add seven more.

To get started, though, the Bank will have to lift its moratorium on new lending to Cambodia, a proposal mired in its own controversy.

The World Bank imposed the lending freeze in 2011 in protest over the way the Land Management Ministry—the Bank’s future partner in any second phase of the LASED project—was doling out land titles. Some 3,000 families were forced out of their homes in Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak neighborhood because the ministry refused to let them apply for titles.

The Bank said it would not lift its lending freeze until the Boeng Kak dispute was settled, a condition the government appears unwilling to meet.


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