Human rights violations, especially land-grabbing and physical assaults, increased by more than 25 percent during 2008 compared to 2007, according to local human rights group Licadho.
Licadho documented 381 human rights violations occurring in 18 provinces and municipalities in 2008, said Am Sam Ath, a Licadho investigator. By comparison, Licadho documented 282 cases during 2007.
The data shows that 112 rights abuses resulted from land grabbing, the majority of which occurred in Preah Sihanouk and Kompong Thom provinces. In 2007, there were 98 such cases document by Licadho, Am Sam Ath said.
“Because the price of land skyrocketed before 2008’s July election, opportunists and numerous bad people grabbed both state land and villagers’ land for their own interests,” he said.
Authorities arrested and jailed 42 villagers involved in land dispute cases in 2008, surpassing 2007 when 36 people were arrested.
Am Sam Ath said Licadho believes the courts were increasingly used as a tool during 2008 to intimidate and silence villagers involved in land disputes with the rich and powerful.
Takeo Provincial Court Director Tith Sothy and Ratanakkiri Provincial Court Prosecutor Mey Sokhan defended the handling of land disputes by the courts.
Land dispute lawsuits filed by both villagers and businesspeople increased in 2008, Mey Sokhan said, though he didn’t have specific numbers. Mey Sokhan said the court tried to resolve such disputes fairly: “We give justice for everybody, including plaintiffs and defendents from various sources.”
Tith Sothy said the detention of suspects involved in serious land disputes in Takeo province was necessary.
Chheng Sorphorse, another Licadho investigator, said the government needs to increase the issuing of official land titles.
“Low numbers of villagers have legal land titles,” he said. “To protect against the increase in land grabs, the government…must try its best to issue as many land titles as possible.”
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