The killing on 27th July 2014 of a teenage farmer by a soldier from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces is the latest tragedy emerging out of Cambodia’s land grabbing crisis.
19 year old Try Chamroeun was reportedly shot and killed on Sunday by soldier Poeun Tash – who has been arrested, charged and is being held in pre-trial detention - when a dispute over land spiralled out of control. Chamroeun had apparently been planting soybeans, along with fellow villagers, on the 2-hectare plot of land he had farmed since 2011 in Preah Vihear province. Claiming the land belonged to his boss, a major in the Cambodian army, Tash reportedly ordered the villagers to stop planting and, during the altercation which followed, allegedly opened fire hitting Chamroeun in the arm and chest. On Tuesday, Tash was charged at a provincial court.
Interviews with Chamroeun’s father have since revealed that, a week prior to the incident, soldiers allegedly informed the village that they could no longer farm there, and had threatened them to leave the area because “the land belonged to their superior”. Commenting on Tash’s charge on Tuesday, Chamroeun’s father urged police to look further up the chain of command stating, “Bringing the perpetrator to jail is not enough and not fair. The court needs to look for the one who ordered the shooting”.
Since 2008, Cambodia has been experiencing a land grabbing crisis. This has seen the equivalent of more than 70% of the country’s arable land leased out to private investors. The rapid sell-off has had disastrous implications for more than half a million Cambodians, with 2,000 families affected by often violent land grabs in the first three months of 2014 alone. Secrecy shrouding these land deals has enabled corruption to flourish, and the involvement of senior Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) senator-tycoons has been well documented. According to the government’s own statistics five of these tycoons hold 20% of total land allocated through concessions, amounting to more than half a million hectares.
“Cambodia is being sold-off to the highest bidder by the country’s political, business and military elite who seemingly have an endless appetite for personal profit,” said campaigner Josie Cohen. “Operating behind a veil of secrecy which enables them to act with total impunity, these corrupt elites are getting rich quick from land deals. meanwhile hundreds of thousands of ordinary Cambodians are pushed off their land and deeper into poverty. The government urgently needs to stop handing over large-swathes of land to private investors and open up the whole system of land concessions so the people of Cambodia can see how their land is being used and for whose benefit”.
This week’s killing is the latest in a series of environmental defenders who have paid the ultimate price for speaking out against the elite capture of Cambodia’s land and forests. Environmental activist Chut Wutty and anti-illegal logging reporter Hang Serei Oudom were both murdered in 2012, while in the same year 14-year old girl Heng Chantha was killed in cross-fire during a land dispute.
“As Cambodia’ s natural resources become increasingly scarce, rising numbers of communities are risking their lives to defend their land, homes and livelihoods”, added Josie Cohen. “It is more vital than ever that the courts and the Cambodian authorities defend and protect those brave enough to speak out against land grabs.”
The sharp rise in killings of environmental defenders is a global phenomenon which is largely being ignored. Of the 908 deaths Global Witness found in its recent Deadly Environment report, there have only been ten convictions. The international community urgently needs to pressure governments like Cambodia’s to put in place plans to protect those on the frontline who are fighting to save our planet’s land and forests.
Josie Cohen on +44 (0)7850 739 451 or [email protected]
Alice Harrison on +44 (0) 7841 338792or [email protected]