CAMBODIA: Resorting to supernatural forces shows failings of institutions for the rule of law

Very recently three different communities living in three different provinces have organized occult ceremonies to seek help from supernatural forces to seek justice and protection from land grabbing. On the 31st January some 300 indigenous Phnong villagers living in Krongteh commune, Pichreada district, Mondolkiri province, organized an offering ceremony dedicated to the supernatural protectors of their country to seek protection of their land. 

The offering comprised of a slaughtered buffalo, seven jars of rice wine mixed with the buffalo¡¦s blood placed under a two-meter tree planted for the purpose, the buffalo¡¦s head together with horns hooked on the tree, the planting of a ¡§stomach-inflating¡¨ plant at the bottom of the tree, the construction of fences around the tree, and the watering of the tree with the blood-mixed rice wine. The fences represented the supernatural fences protecting the whole of their commune. 

The villagers prayed to all deities to prevent any company from grabbing their land. They believed that, through this ceremony, the stomach-inflating plant would destroy any defiant company. They recalled that the same ceremony had helped divert battles away from their commune when Cambodia was at war in the past. 

A week later, on the 6th February hundreds of villagers in Lor Peang village, Ta Cheh commune, Kompong Tralach district, Kompong Chhnang province, organized a two-day cursing ceremony following the grabbing of their land by a company. Their ceremony consisted of planting tree leaves on the grabbed land and pronouncing a curse, wishing that ¡§the chairman or representatives of the land grabbing company, and the corrupt local officials colluding with it to grab their land would fade away and die like those tree leaves.¡¨ 

The villagers said that the same ceremony they had organized in the previous year was good when two land grabbers had fatal accidents afterwards. 

The third cursing ceremony was organized on the 16th February by some 50 villagers from Banteay Meanchey province in front of the court of Pursat province to get the release of four representatives. The four men were charged with alleged damage to property in a land dispute in Banteay Meanchey province, 170 kms away from Pursat. The Ministry of Justice had transferred the case to Pursat court for unknown reason. 

On the 11th February the Pursat court ordered the case to be transferred back to the court of Banteay Meanchey province and also the release of the four suspects on bail. However, the Pursat court prosecutor, who allegedly had a personal interest with the other party, objected to the bail and the four men were still incarcerated in prison. In their protest against the prosecutor, the villagers burned incense sticks and salt, and threw rice grain about, invoking the mighty deities and the spirits of past heroes in Pursat province to punish those who did injustices to their men. 

This invocation of supernatural forces to seek their help shows how desperate those villagers are and how little confidence they have in the institutions of their country. It is yet another clear testimony of the failings of these institutions to deliver justice and protect the security of citizens and their properties. 

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) strongly urges the Cambodian authorities to promptly provide remedies to these failings. To address the land grabbing issue, they should effectively enforce the Land Law (2001) and ensure an effective functioning of the cadastral commissions and the courts of law by providing them with adequate resources and professional expertise. 

The government should be transparent when making land concessions and ensure that no one should be affected or receive just compensation. It should respect the independence of the judiciary and abide by decisions of the court of law, and refrain from interfering in judicial affairs. 

For its part, the judiciary should uphold its independence and impartiality and fight off any interference from the other branches of government and/or rich and powerful people. It should effectively enforce the code of criminal procedure, especially the statutory presumption of bail enshrined in it. In land dispute cases where there is damage to property, it should determine the ownership first before taking any criminal action against any party. The Supreme Council of the Magistracy should strictly enforce the code of ethics for judges and make the complaint procedure and mechanism easily accessible to the public.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-033-2009
Countries : Cambodia,