The first election in post Pol Pot Cambodia was held in May 1993. The new constitution promised a liberal democracy and a system of governance based on the rule of law. However, the country is still in a state of abysmal lawlessness and ordinary Cambodians are powerless. There are no institutions in the country which can offer them any kind of protection. The Cambodian police is in a rudimentary stage of development, is known to be corrupt and completely under the political control of the regime and those who are rich and powerful. Cambodian courts are also known to be corrupt and are used as instruments of political control by way of jailing opposition politicians; people resisting land grabbing; those who express independent opinions and civil society activists who express solidarity with victims of abuse of power. There are no institutions that people can turn to make any complaints or to turn to any kind of help when faced with injustice. And the injustices that the people face are many.
The major complaint everywhere is that of “Land Grabbing”. Having a title to a plot of land is normally the ultimate guarantee of some security in this poor country. However, having a title to land is of little use when the same land can be allotted to some company by a government authority, who does not even inform the original title holder when such allocations are made. It is only when the company begins the operation to redevelop the land that the original owners get to know that the land they rightfully own has been given away.
Naturally they protest and at that stage security forces enter the scene and harassment is the result. As the people literally have nowhere to go, they fight back. Then they are brought to courts on all kinds of charges and many are detained. There are thousands of reports of such happenings from around the country. “In the capital, Phnom Penh, 133,000 people — more than 10% of its population — are believed to have been evicted since 1990.” (This is according to a report of reliable civil society organization).
The result of such land evictions is that those who are displaced are excluded from any benefits, and lose their source of income, they are exposed to poor health and their young face lack of education. In a country, with so little opportunities, eviction from land implies a transformation which ends in destitution. Hopes for stability and a future ends for many. Naturally the women and young and the elderly suffer the most. Naturally, prostitution and other similar problems are on the increase in today’s Cambodia.
“The Cambodian courts continue to act on behalf of rich and powerful interests, ignoring the evidence, the Land Law and other relevant legislation, enforcing eviction where ownership remains undecided and imprisoning those who dare to protest”, states a report from well known LICAHDO, a human rights organization. This view is confirmed by many other organizations and almost everyone.
Cambodian courts are not able to protect land titles. Their function is not the protection of the individual but the interests of those who are in power. The idea of the balancing of interests is an alien concept in Cambodia. The role of the authorities is to protect the state, not the people.