Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Give Their Land Titles Instead of Harassing, Intimidating Samrong Tbong Community, CSOs Tell Authorities

A map shared by civil society groups shows that Samrong Tbong community (in purple) is excluded from Boeng Tamok development.
A map shared by civil society groups shows that Samrong Tbong community (in purple) is excluded from Boeng Tamok development.

Thirty eight civil society organizations including the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT) and local communities have urged the government and authorities to immediately stop harassing and intimidating Samrong Tbong residents and give them their land titles.

According to their joint statement on Thursday, the issue of land security in Samrong Tbong is under threat as the government allegedly continued to give away large plots of Boeng Tamok land, which could result in forced evictions. This is happening amid lawsuits on residents and allegations as they strive to protect their land, home and right to property.

The organizations have asked the Phnom Penh court to drop all charges against 18 community representatives. “We also urge the government to issue legal land ownership and housing development to the community and stop forced evictions.”

The community has lived in Samrong Tbong village, where 76 families remain, within Samrong commune in Prek Pnov district, Phnom Penh since 1996.

A February 3, 2016 sub-decree, declaring Boeng Tamok (in red) a public property and earmarked for development, showed that Samrong Tbong community, marked purple on the eastern side of the lake, had been excluded from the project.

Although the houses are near the lake, they are not part of it, and so, are not affected by the road expansion project, the organizations said, adding that the community has lived peacefully there for many years.

The groups believed that the Samrong Tbong community were entitled to housing development, similar to those carried out by the authorities in Meanchey district for the communities living by the canal. They should also not be threatened by the authorities to leave their homes, the statement read.

“Contrary to the community’s situation, the government has continued to divide the lake area, handing over legal ownership 80 times to private companies and individuals, which is equivalent to 74.92% of the total lake area, even though they never lived there.”

“The application of two different standards [for the rich and poor] creates a great deal of social injustice. The community suffers, [having to] lose their jobs and income, becoming indebted, [forcing them] to migrate and losing their families, while facing criminal lawsuits for defending their land,” they said.

A fisherman works at Boeng Tamok while big trucks carry soil to fill the lake, November 7, 2023. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

From 2021 to 2023, 18 community residents have faced various charges of “intentional violence” and “aggravated assault on public officers”. One of them, Prak Sophea, who feared being arrested fled to Thailand last year, where she sought refugee status.

Since 2019, the community has been asking for a solution from every stakeholder including the local authorities, Phnom Penh Capital Hall, the Prime Minister’s Office, and the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction but none has been provided.

Forced evictions are a serious violation of human rights, especially the right to shelter, STT said last December, noting that evictions have increased existing inequalities, further affecting poor and vulnerable communities, while pushing them deeper into poverty.

Early this month, seven residents received additional court summons for clashing with the district authority which attempted to demolish one resident’s vegetable stall on December 18.

They were initially summoned to appear in court this week, but sought the court’s approval to delay their case as they were not yet able to hire a lawyer to advise them. 

Because of this, the people in the community have not had time to run their business properly to support their families as they have been busy looking for lawyers or consultants to advise them, Sea Davy, a community representative, told CamboJA on Friday.

She said their time is wasted worrying about the court order, having to appear in court and running around because of the case, adding that as long as the charges are not dropped, their livelihood is affected.

Thus, Davy asked the government to provide land titles to the Samrong Tbong community, as they do not live on the land demarcated for development. She also appealed to the government to inform the local authorities to “stop all acts of intimidation and repression”, and “stop filing complaints against them”.

“Because the court order which we received is from the district authority, they were the ones who filed the complaint. I request the government to intervene on behalf of us – the residents of Samrong Tbong village. Please solve our problem by giving us land titles and dropping our charges,” said Davy.

Government spokesperson Pen Bona could not be reached for comment. Court spokespersons Sous Vityearady and Y Rin did not respond to questions while Chin Malin, spokesperson of the Ministry of Justice, said he was not able to speak at the time. 

Van Sophat, business and human rights project coordinator of CCHR, said the civil society groups will continue supporting the Samrong Tbong community by providing legal consultants, and helping with petition, food and psychological counseling.

“People who undergo this kind of pressure are likely to suffer from serious mental health problems,” he added.