October 1, 2009: Phnom Penh residents facing the largest forced displacement of Cambodians since the Khmer Rouge era have filed a complaint to the World Bank Inspection Panel stating that they have suffered serious harm from a Bank-funded land-titling project.
The complaint, submitted by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions
(COHRE) and registered on 24 September, alleges that the Bank breached its operational policies by failing to adequately supervise the Land Management and Administration Project (LMAP), which has denied urban poor and other vulnerable households protection against widespread tenure insecurity and increasing forced evictions in Cambodia. The project is also funded by German, Canadian and Finnish governments.
A major report about the Bank-financed project, "Untitled: Tenure Insecurity and Inequality in the Cambodian Land Sector", was also released this week by three international human rights organizations, Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) and Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia (BABSEA).
The principal finding of the report is that, "despite a seven-year, multi-million dollar effort to reform the land sector, Cambodia's land administration institutions have failed to improve tenure security for vulnerable groups, who are routinely and arbitrarily denied access to land titling and dispute resolution mechanisms", stated Salih Booker, Executive Director of COHRE.
Despite having legitimate rights to the land under Cambodia's Land Law, thousands of families residing around Phnom Penh's Boeung Kak lake were denied titles when the area was adjudicated by LMAP in January 2007, the same month that a well-connected developer acquired a legally dubious 99-year lease over the area. Residents have since been subjected to intimidation and pressure to leave their homes by the developer and local officials. So far, an estimated 900 families have been evicted from their land to make way for the development, with more than 3000 families due to face the same fate.
The NGO report states that "[t]he fact that these households do not have title is often used against them as a justification for eviction, despite the fact that many have well documented rights under the law." "Meanwhile", the report continues, "the wealthy and well-connected have little difficulty in acquiring land title in high value areas in which poor communities reside due to their connections or their ability to pay the high "unofficial fees"."
Both the complaint and the report cite numerous flaws of LMAP, including a failure to issue titles to vulnerable households in accordance with legal procedures, ineffective and corrupt dispute resolution mechanisms, and a failure to conduct essential public awareness campaigns and legal aid programs.
The report identifies the absence of transparent State land management as a key failure of LMAP, which has contributed to the problem of tenure insecurity throughout the country. It states that the lack of transparency and an unimplemented or inadequate legal framework has led to the loss of public spaces in both urban and rural settings, as well as the large-scale depletion of the country?s natural resources, especially forests.
"The mismanagement of State land has negatively impacted the poorest Cambodians most," said BABSEA Director David Pred. "Rural and indigenous communities have been deprived of the land on which their lives depend in order to make way for Economic Land Concessions, and poor urban households have been denied the opportunity to secure their land tenure despite their legal entitlements, when they are wrongly labelled as squatters on State land."
Boeung Kak residents who filed the complaint against the World Bank have requested to remain anonymous, citing concerns for their safety amidst increasing intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders and political dissidents in Cambodia.
The Cambodian government abruptly ended its agreement on the project with the World Bank last month after a disagreement about the applicability of World Bank social safeguards in cases like Boeung Kak. Despite the government's termination of the agreement, human rights groups have demanded that the Cambodian government continue to be held accountable for its contractual obligations to adhere to the project's policy on involuntary resettlement.
"In light of the serious problems with the design and implementation of LMAP, it is incumbent upon the World Bank to conduct a thorough investigation of this project and its overall assistance strategy in Cambodia," said Pred. "After seven years of wholly inadequate supervision of LMAP, the Bank has a responsibility to investigate and remedy the harms that have been caused to the Cambodian families who have been unfairly denied recognition of their land rights."
"The World Bank should reconsider its approach to land titling programmes that it promotes worldwide, especially in countries without strong rule of law and the political will to protect people's rights against powerful interests," Booker added. "Through the Inspection Panel's investigation, the World Bank can and should learn important lessons from LMAP."
For more information, please contact:
COHRE Asia and Pacific Programme
COHRE Legal Officer
+855 17 523276
Coordinator, Asia and Pacific Programme
Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE)
PO Box 2061, Phnom Penh 3, Cambodia
No 9A, Street 420
Sangkat Boeung Tra Beak, Chamkarmon
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Fax: +855 23 726 934
83 rue de Montbrillant