Land Grabbing Practices in Cambodia and Laos

Land grabbing is a huge problem for the biology and the local people who are concerned. Big, international companies gain concessions to change huge habitats of formerly widely untouched rain forest as well as farmland from local people into huge monocultures. Global Wittness published in 2013 a report about the land grabbing activities of two Vietnamese companies in Cambodia and Laos. Below you find a small excerpt from the report. The whole download as a .pdf file you find on their website: Global Witness: Rubber Barons (free).

For an own, illustrated article by Asienreisender of the impact in Ratanakiri Province in northeast Cambodia click the link.

Very little information is available regarding land concessions in Cambodia and Laos. There is no publicly available cadastre of land holdings, no information about the areas the governments are targeting for investment, no disclosure when companies begin negotiating a land lease and no information about the beneficial owners involved. Environmental and social impact assessments, if done at all, are not released to those potentially affected. As a result, in the majority of cases, the first local communities in either country know about a company being given the land and forests on which they and their ancestors have lived is when the bulldozers arrive and start digging it up.

When people have had their land and forests grabbed by a company, one of the most significant barriers to justice, getting the land back, or even compensation, is the lack of access to data: who took their land, the boundaries of the concession, what the land is being used for and what environmental or social impacts from the project are anticipated.
The Cambodian Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has an online database of ELCs; however this database is incomplete, rarely updated, and holds only the most basic information. Being web-based, this database is also completely inaccessible to local people who do not have electricity, let alone computers or internet access. The Lao government meanwhile has been compiling a national inventory, in order to create a public national database of concessions. However, despite being operational since 2011, the results are still not publicly accessible and questions have been asked by civil society about the quality of the data.

Not only does this secrecy prevent people affected by land and forest grabs from protecting their rights or holding their government and investors to account, it has also entrenched a culture of clandestine decision making in which elite capture of state assets has become the norm. The ability of those in power to disguise their involvement in investments by using networks of ‘front companies’ facilitates this corruption and further impedes justice.

Although improving transparency in land concessions in Cambodia and Laos would not solve all the problems outlined in this report, providing affected communities with the critical information they need about concessions would be a significant step towards enabling them to seek redress and justice.

Global Witness, 2013


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