A family house knocked down by security guards of a tourism concession in Koh Kong province.
Photo: Andreas Neef


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The land reform process in Cambodia is full of examples of injustice and human rights violations. Promises to improve the situation of the landless and land-poor citizens have remained unfulfilled. Development co-operation efforts have not changed this either.

As a post-conflict country, Cambodia has a particularly complex land legislation history. Under the Khmer Rouge Regime from 1975–1979, private land ownership was abolished and cadastral records were destroyed (Oldenburg and Neef, 2014). During the ten-year long occupation by Vietnamese forces and several years of unrest that followed, rural areas in Cambodia were marked by large and unregulated movements of people and land possession by occupation of forestland and otherwise vacant land.

Forest concessions with devastating consequences

Following the Paris Peace Accord of 1991, the end of major civil conflicts and the repatriation of refugees, a policy of forest concessions was introduced that had enormous social and ecological impacts, particularly in terms of increasing insecurity of land tenure and reducing forest cover. From 1993 to 2002, more than 30 forestry concession zones were established, covering about 6.5 million ha and around 70 per cent of forestland (Oldenburg and Neef, 2014). After a decade of massive deforestation and forest degradation and mounting criticism by international donors, a moratorium on forest concessions was issued in 2002.

The Land Law of 2001: Laying the foundation for land titling and land grabs

The Land Law of 2001 introduced new property rights categories, such as state public land (mostly forested areas) and state private land (land that can be converted into various forms of concessions) (Oldenburg and Neef, 2014). The law turned hundreds of thousands of rural people living on unregistered state public land into illegal occupants.

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