Cambodia - Context and Land Governance | Land Portal
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Land lies at the center of debates about Cambodia’s socio-economic development. For farmers in the fertile lowlands, private land ownership rights have enabled recovery of their livelihoods after decades of conflict. Meanwhile, the resource-rich uplands and border areas have been the site of large-scale land acquisitions for cash crop production and extractive industries.[1] The resulting displacement and land disputes have spread to urban and lowland areas, resulting in one of the highest rates of land inequality in Asia.[2]

In a survey of landholding patterns in 433 villages, Oxfam found that:

12 percent of owners with holding of greater than 3 hectares each owned a total of 72 percent of the land.[31]

In rural areas, where over 80 percent of the population resides, GIZ reported landlessness at 20 percent, and 40 percent of the households with under 0.5 hectares of farm land.[32] Besides issues of ownership and title, safety remains a concern in some areas because of landmines, and de-mining work continues.

Prior to the French colonial time, all land in Cambodia belonged to the King.[3] The notion of land ownership was introduced under the French Protectorate and was maintained in the post-independence era [4] until the abolition of private property by the Khmer Rouge. The Paris Peace Agreement in 1991 ended Vietnamese occupation and established a market economy, leading to the restoration of private land ownership in the 1993 Constitution.[5]      

Agriculture is the main occupation for over 70 percent of Cambodians. Rice production relies on the availability of arable land and irrigation systems.[6] In addition to local market demands, the government has set a rice export target of 1 million tons per year.[7] Achieving this target would require an expansion of cultivated land and nearby water sources, a serious challenge in present conditions of drought.

 

The VGGT in Cambodia

Cambodia is part of the United Nations Committee on World Food Security (CFS) and as such has endorsed the VGGT on 11 May 2012. The CFS at its 38th (Special Session) on 11 May 2012, among other points: i) endorsed the VGGT; ii) noted that, according to their title  the VGGT are voluntary and not legally binding; iii) and encouraged all stakeholders to promote, make use of and support the implementation of the VGGT when formulating relevant strategies, policies and programmes. (See FAO Council Report of the 38th (Special) Session of the Committee on World Food Security (11 May 2012), Rome, 11-15 June 2012).

In addition, Cambodia has engaged in dialogue to improve governance of tenure within the framework of the VGGT as part of the Mekong Regional Land Governance Initiative, identified capacities to be strengthened for the implementation of the VGGT and challenges and opportunities of recognizing and protecting customary tenure systems in Cambodia were analyzed in the context of the VGGT were analyzed. Watch a video in Cambodia and the VGGT.

 

Policy, legal and organizational frameworks

Prior to the French colonial time, all land in Cambodia belonged to the King.[3] The notion of land ownership was introduced under the French Protectorate and was maintained in the post-independence era[4] until the abolition of private property by the Khmer Rouge. The Paris Peace Agreement in 1991 ended Vietnamese occupation and established a market economy, leading to the restoration of private land ownership in the 1993 Constitution.[5]      

Since 2001, when the Land Law was passed, the Cambodian government has made progress in developing policy, regulatory and administrative frameworks for land management.

 

Read more about policy, legal and organizational frameworks in Cambodia under the following thematic sections:

Transparency

Browse Transparency International data from the Global corruption barometer to find out more about corruption in the land sector in Cambodia.

Gender and land

Browse the FAO gender and land rights database for more information on gender and land in Cambodia.

 

Legal recognition and allocation of tenure rights

Since 2001, when the Land Law was passed, the Cambodian government has made progress in developing policy, regulatory and administrative frameworks for land management. The Land Law introduced three main land categories: 

State land, in two sub-categories:[9]​

  • State public land has public interest value, containing things like lakes or mountains, ports or airports, roads or public parks, schools, hospitals, protected areas, historical sites, or official properties of the Royal Family.[10] State public land cannot be sold or granted as economic land concessions (ELCs), although it can be leased for up to 15 years.[11]
  • State private land  does not have public interest value as mentioned above.[12] It can be sold or leased, including long-term leases and land concessions for agro-industrial businesses, but any such transfer must follow legal procedure.[13] 

Collective property in two sub-categories:[14]

  • Monastery property, land and structures existing within the premises of Buddhist monasteries.[15]
  • Indigenous property, lands where ethnic minority communities have established their residences and where they carry out traditional agriculture.[16]
  • Private land legally owned or possessed by persons or a company.[17]

Communal land titles are recognized, but the law sets up a number of hurdles that have made application for communal land tenure recognition a drawn-out process. Applicants must choose either private or indigenous recognition; the two forms cannot be combined.

Tenure insecurity is linked to disputes over ownership.[27]  Many low-income households live on land where ownership is not recorded in the national land registration system. In these cases, households are protected under possession rights (paukeas) instead of the stronger legal category of ownership rights (kamaset). According to law, only legal possessors have the right to become owners, while households who possess land illegally do not.[28] For instance, any occupation of state private land is considered as null and invalid.[29] In practice, NGOs observe that possession may be legal, but residents are often evicted.[30]

 

Markets

Prior to the French colonial time, all land in Cambodia belonged to the King.[3] The notion of land ownership was introduced under the French Protectorate and was maintained in the post-independence era[4] until the abolition of private property by the Khmer Rouge. The Paris Peace Agreement in 1991 ended Vietnamese occupation and established a market economy, leading to the restoration of private land ownership in the 1993 Constitution.[5]

 

Investments

The Land Law provides for the issuing of large scale land concessions to domestic and foreign investors. While there are constitutional provisions for private ownership in Cambodia through fully transferable land title, the majority of unsurveyed and untitled land remains the property of the State, facilitating the granting of concessions on that land [18].

Over the last twenty years, Cambodia’s development trends have been underlined by widespread land disputes and violations of land rights. Issues surrounding ELCs and other extractive and agri-business expansion are the principle causes of violations of private property and other human rights abuses.

Nearly 12 percent of the country’s land area [33], or about 2 million hectares, has been granted to investors under terms of economic land concessions. In addition, 704,592 ha have been granted mining licenses, and 305,405 ha assigned to 72 hydropower projects.[34] Through concessions, land is leased to local and foreign investors for agro-industry businesses, energy generation, and extractive industry. In total, a 2013 study found that “3.9 million hectares, or some 22 per cent of the country, is now controlled by the private sector and particularly the local elites”.[35] In contrast to their large land area, ELCs make only modest contributions to economic development, generating only US$ 5 million in government revenue in 2015.[36]

Agriculture is the main occupation for over 70 percent of Cambodians. Rice production relies on the availability of arable land and irrigation systems.[6] In addition to local market demands, the government has set a rice export target of 1 million tons per year.[7] Achieving this target would require an expansion of cultivated land and nearby water sources, a serious challenge in present conditions of drought.[8]

Most large-scale land acquisitions for cash crop production and extractive industries have taken place in the resource-rich uplands and border areas have been the site of large-scale land acquisitions for cash crop production and extractive industries.[1] The resulting displacement and land disputes have spread to urban and lowland areas, resulting in one of the highest rates of land inequality in Asia.[2]

In May 2012, the government adopted Order 01BB on Measures for Strengthening and Increasing the Effectiveness of the Management of Economic Land Concessions, suspending the granting of new ELCs and calling for a review of existing concessions. Since then, over 1 million hectares of forest land leased by private companies has been put back under government control. According to a statement by the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, at least “370,000 hectares of land has been cut out of ELCs from 134 companies and more than 250,000 hectares of land has been cut from state-owned land and seized forest land.”[37]

 

Expropriation and compensation

Tenure insecurity is linked to disputes over ownership.[27]  Many low-income households live on land where ownership is not recorded in the national land registration system. In these cases, households are protected under possession rights (paukeas) instead of the stronger legal category of ownership rights (kamaset). According to law, only legal possessors have the right to become owners, while households who possess land illegally do not.[28] For instance, any occupation of state private land is considered as null and invalid.[29] In practice, NGOs observe that possession may be legal, but residents are often evicted.[30] In Phnom Penh alone, NGOs report that nearly 30,000 families have been evicted from their homes in the last 25 years.[44]

In a July 2015 report, local rights group ADHOC said that in the first six months of the year, it received 66 complaints of land rights violations affecting more than 3,500 families on more than 8,600 hectares of land.[45]

In the future, ELCs will likely no longer be the sole and dominant factor contributing to land disputes, as the government is speeding up registration of land titles and an inventory of the state land, including in protected areas, a joint effort of the Ministry of Environment (MoE), and Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF).

However, growing inequality of land access, ineffective land management for sustainable development, and a shift in geo-location of land disputes will become core issues. Large-scale land acquisition for agribusiness[46] and contract farming[47] appear to be the main driving forces behind growing inequality in land access and may bring new threats to secure land tenure.

Article 4 of the Law on Expropriation, 2010 provides that expropriation must be for public physical infrastructure, which is in the national and public interests.

Browse the qualitative dataset developed by Tagliarino, N.K. (2018) to assess how national laws in Cambodia measure up against the international standard on expropriation and resettlement as established by VGGT section 16.

 

Records of tenure rights

Many low-income households live on land where ownership is not recorded in the national land registration system. In these cases, households are protected under possession rights (paukeas) instead of the stronger legal category of ownership rights (kamaset). According to law, only legal possessors have the right to become owners, while households who possess land illegally do not.[28] For instance, any occupation of state private land is considered as null and invalid.[29] In practice, NGOs observe that possession may be legal, but residents are often evicted.[30]

Beginning in 2002, the government– with donor support – began to systematically classify and register all land parcels according to the categories detailed in the 2001 Land Law. This program aimed to remove uncertainty over land ownership that caused conflicts and tenure insecurity. A Cadastral Commission was set up to resolve disputes arising during the course of land registration. The Rectangular Strategy for Growth, Employment, Equity and Efficiency in Cambodia included commitments to step up distribution of land to the poor and to provide titles to secure legal ownership.[19]

Up to the end of 2015, the government has handed over 4.15 million private land titles, representing 59 percent of the estimated total number of land parcels nationwide.[20] Registration of titles in 2015 was 7 percent higher than the previous year.[21] The National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP) for 2014–2018 emphasizes the importance of continuing with land reforms.[22]  In October 2015, Im Chhun Lim, Minister of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, announced targets of 70 percent of land titles by 2018, and 100 percent by 2020.[23]

In previous land registration efforts, many communities may have been arbitrarily excluded,[24] especially low-income households in high-value urban areas or where ELCs operate. Studies suggest that the Cadastral Commission has been responsible for overseeing land registration, but it suffers from bureaucracy and corruption, and the pace of registration has been slow.[25] These problems are viewed less as an absence of policy but rather limitations in law enforcement and irregularities in the implementation of existing legislation.[26] 

 

Resolution of disputes over tenure rights

Over the last twenty years, Cambodia’s development trends have been underlined by widespread land disputes and violations of land rights. Issues surrounding ELCs and other extractive and agri-business expansion are the principle causes of violations of private property and other human rights abuses. Land disputes have been particularly numerous in upland areas, where many resource extraction projects are based and migrants from other provinces have moved into land used by local residents [38]. A second major arena for land disputes is in urban areas, especially Phnom Penh and neighboring provinces, and on both sides of Tonle Sap Lake.

Despite recent legal and institutional reforms on the management of ELCs and protected areas, land disputes have spread across the country with no signs of relief.[39] In 2015, LICADHO reported that the number of land disputes had increased threefold in the past year.[40] Cumulatively over time, more than 500,000 people have reportedly been affected.[41] Sar Sovan, secretary of state at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, said that the government has its own, more accurate figures. According to figures collected by the ministry, “of every 1,000 land titles [issued, there are just] three or four conflicts.” Sovan added that in the 357 communes across the country in which land titling has taken place, land conflicts are not a major problem. “On average, one village has disputes [affecting] less than one person,” he said[42].

Additionally, the ministry had settled 3,335 land conflicts on its own “outside the courts” [43]. Land conflicts frequently end in eviction. In Phnom Penh alone, NGOs report that nearly 30,000 families have been evicted from their homes in the last 25 years.[44] In a July 2015 report, local rights group ADHOC said that in the first six months of the year, it received 66 complaints of land rights violations affecting more than 3,500 families on more than 8,600 hectares of land.[45]

Tenure insecurity is linked to disputes over ownership.[27]  Many low-income households live on land where ownership is not recorded in the national land registration system. In these cases, households are protected under possession rights (paukeas) instead of the stronger legal category of ownership rights (kamaset). According to law, only legal possessors have the right to become owners, while households who possess land illegally do not.[28] For instance, any occupation of state private land is considered as null and invalid.[29] In practice, NGOs observe that possession may be legal, but residents are often evicted.[30]

Beginning in 2002, the government– with donor support – began to systematically classify and register all land parcels according to the categories detailed in the 2001 Land Law. This program aimed to remove uncertainty over land ownership that caused conflicts and tenure insecurity. A Cadastral Commission was set up to resolve disputes arising during the course of land registration. The Rectangular Strategy for Growth, Employment, Equity and Efficiency in Cambodia included commitments to step up distribution of land to the poor and to provide titles to secure legal ownership.[19]

In the future, ELCs will likely no longer be the sole and dominant factor contributing to land disputes, as the government is speeding up registration of land titles and an inventory of the state land, including in protected areas, a joint effort of the Ministry of Environment (MoE), and Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF). However, growing inequality of land access, ineffective land management for sustainable development, and a shift in geo-location of land disputes will become core issues. Large-scale land acquisition for agribusiness [46] and contract farming[47] appear to be the main driving forces behind growing inequality in land access and may bring new threats to secure land tenure.

References

[1]Üllenberg, A., Foreign Direct Investment in Land in Cambodia (Phnom Penh: GIZ, 2009), 11.

[2] World Bank. Sharing growth: equity and development in Cambodia. Report No.39809-KH (Phnom Penh, 2007), 54.

[3] Diepart, J-C. “The fragmentation of land tenure system in Cambodia: peasants and the formalization of land rights,” Country Profile No,.6: Cambodia, Technical Committee on Land Tenure and Development. https://orbi.ulg.ac.be/bitstream/2268/183306/1/DIEPART_2015_Fragmentatio....

[4] Ibid, 2-3.

[5] Grimsditch, M., Kol Leakhana and Sherchan, D., Access to Land Title in Cambodia: A Study of Systematic Land Registration in Three Cambodian Provinces and the Capital (Phnom Penh: NGO Forum on Cambodia, 2012), 1. http://library.opendevelopmentcambodia.net:8080/newgenlibctxt/View?CatId....

[6] Hul Reaksmey, “Hun Sen again stresses need to develop irrigation systems.” Cambodia Daily, 19 August 2014. https://www.cambodiadaily.com/archives/hun-sen-again-stresses-need-to-de...

[7] Ek Madra, “Irrigation advances fuel Cambodia rice dream.” Reuters, 8 October 2008. http://uk.reuters.com/article/us-cambodia-rice-idUKTRE49702L20081008; Khmer for Khmer News. “Cambodia to invest US$310 million in irrigations to boost rice exports-PM.” http://khmerforkhmer.blogspot.com/2010/02/cambodia-to-invest-us-310-mill....

[8] Sen, D. and Harfenist, E., “Drought batters 13 provinces,” Phnom Penh Post, 1 September 2015. http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/drought-batters-13-provinces. 

[9] Sub-decree No. #129 on Rules and Procedures on Reclassification of State Public Properties and Public Entities, 27 November 2006, Article 3.

[10] Land Law 2001, Article 15; Sub-decree No. #118 on State Land Management, 7 October 2005, Article 4.

[11] Sub-decree #129, Articles 18 and 16.

[12] Sub-decree #118, Article 5.

[13] Land Law, Article 17.

[14] Ibid., Articles 20-28.

[15] Ibid., Article 20.

[16] Ibid., Article 25.

[17] Ibid., Article 10.

[18] Dwyer, M., “The formalization fix? Land titling, land concessions and the politics of spatial transparency in Cambodia.” Journal of Peasant Studies 42:5 (2015): 916-917.  

[19] Prime Minister Hun Sen. Address to the First Cabinet Meeting of the Third Legislature of the National Assembly at the Office of the Council of Ministers, Phnom Penh, July 2004.

[20] Ministry of Land Management Urban Planning and Construction (MLMUP). Progress Report on the Results of the Activities in 2015 and Planning in 2016 (March 2016), 9.  http://www.mlmupc.gov.kh/?page=document&ref_id=24&ctype=article&id=450&l...

[21] Niem Chheng. “Gov’t denies land issues,” Phnom Penh Post, 8 February 2016. http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/govt-denies-land-issues

[22] Ministry of Planning, National Strategic Development Plan 2014–2018, 28-31. http://www.mop.gov.kh/Home/NSDP/NSDP20142018/tabid/216/Default.aspx.

[23] Sen, D., “Gov’t pledges to set up land titling pace,” Phnom Penh Post, 20 October 2015. http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/govt-pledges-step-land-titling-pace.

[24] Grimsditch, Kol and Sherchan, Access to Land Title in Cambodia.

[25] ANGOC, “Securing the Right to Land: An Overview on Access to Land” (Manila, 2012), 39, 85. http://www.angoc.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/06/securing-the-right-to...

[26] Colchester, M. and Chao, S., eds. Agribusiness Large-Scale Land Acquisitions and Human Rights in South-East Asia (London: Forest Peoples’ Programme, 2013), 7.

[27] Subedi, S., Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Addendum: A human rights analysis of economic and other land concessions in Cambodia (United Nations Commission on Human Rights, 21st Session, 11 October 2012), 9.

[28] Land Law 2001, Article 6.

[29] Land Law 2001, Article 18.

[30] Grimsditch, M., and Henderson, N. “Untitled: Tenure Insecurity and Inequality in the Cambodian Land Sector” (Phnom Penh: Bridges Across Borders, 2009). https://data.opendevelopmentmekong.net/library_record/untitled-tenure-in....

[31] World Bank. Sharing growth: equity and development in Cambodia, 55.

[32] Üllenberg, Foreign Direct Investment in Land in Cambodia,11.

[33] Colchester and Chao, eds. Agribusiness Large-Scale Land Acquisitions and Human Rights in South-East Asia, 10.

[34] Figures on mining and hydropower concessions are based on Open Development Cambodia datasets.

[35] Colchester and Chao, eds. Agribusiness Large-Scale Land Acquisitions and Human Rights in South-East Asia, 3.

[36] Baliga, A., and Vong Sokheng, “ELCs earn just 5 M for gov’t,” Phnom Penh Post, 18 April 2016. http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/elcs-earn-just-5m-govt.

[37] May Titthara, “One million hectares reclassified, gov’t says,” Phnom Penh Post, 27 October 2014. http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/one-million-hectares-reclassified-....

[38] Diepart, “The fragmentation of land tenure system in Cambodia”, 19-20.

[39] Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO). “Hundreds of villagers petition commune chiefs over decade-long land dispute with sugar company,” 20 January 2016. http://www.licadho-cambodia.org/flashnews.php?perm=154 

[40] LICADHO, “Renewed Surge in Land Disputes Must be Addressed Not Denied”, 19 February 2015. http://www.licadho-cambodia.org/pressrelease.php?perm=374.

[41] LICADHO. “Statement: 2014 Brings a New Wave of Cambodian Land Conflicts.” 1 April 2014. Accessed April 2014.  http://www.licadho-cambodia.org/pressrelease.php?perm=342.

[42] May Titthara and Cuddy, A.. “Licadho data ‘not real’: gov’t”, Phnom Penh Post, 4 April 2014. http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/licadho-data-%E2%80%98not-real%E2%....

[43] Niem Chheng. “Gov’t denies land issues.”

[44] Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, “Phnom Penh’s History of Displacement – Evicted Communities from 1990-2014” (Phnom Penh, 2014). http://teangtnaut.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/FactFigures23_Evicted-C....

[45] Sen, “Gov’t pledges to step up land titling pace”.

[46] Colchester and Chao, eds. Agribusiness Large-Scale Land Acquisitions and Human Rights in South-East Asia.

[47] Sum Sreymom and Khieve Pirom, “Contract Farming in Cambodia: Different Models, Policy and Practice”, CDRI Working Paper Series No.104 (Phnom Penh: Cambodia Development Resource Institute, 2015). http://www.cdri.org.kh/webdata/download/wp/wp104e.pdf.  

Total spending for agricultural reserch measured measured as a share of the value added from agriculture, forestry and fishing activities

Measurement unit: 
Percentage (%)

It measures the area (1'000 Ha) covered by forest.

Measurement unit: 
1'000 ha

Forest land administered by governments: This category includes all forest land that is legally claimed as exclusively belonging to the state.

Measurement unit: 
Million ha

GDP per capita based on purchasing power parity (PPP). PPP GDP is gross domestic product converted to international dollars using purchasing power parity rates.

Measurement unit: 
PPP$ 2011

Incidence of agricultural landowners (female only - share%) according to the FAO Land and Gender database.

Measurement unit: 
Percentage (%)

This indicator measures the weghted proportion (%) of respondants who have been requested to paid a bribe, among those who contacted land services.

Measurement unit: 
Percentage (%)

This indicator is a sub-component of the Restricted Resources and Entitlements Indicator and measures whether women and men have equal and secure access to land use, control and ownership.

Measurement unit: 
Index (0; 1)

Rural population refers to the share (%) of people living in rural areas as defined by national statistical offices. It is calculated as the ratio between Urban Population and Total Population.

Measurement unit: 
Percentage (%)

Total Area (ha) for forestry deals in a gven country over the period 2000-2015.

Measurement unit: 
Hectares (ha)
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This indicator is a sub-component of the Restricted Resources and Entitlements Indicator and measures whether women and men have equal and secure access to land use, control and ownership.

Measurement unit: 
Index (0; 1)
Loading chart...

It measures the area (1'000 Ha) covered by forest.

Measurement unit: 
1'000 ha
Loading spider chart
Loading pie chart

Arable land (1'000 Ha) is the land under temporary agricultural crops (multiple-cropped areas are counted only once), temporary meadows for mowing or pasture, land under market and kitchen gardens

Measurement unit: 
1'000 ha

It measures the area (1'000 Ha) covered by forest.

Measurement unit: 
1'000 ha

Land area is the total area (1'000 Ha) of the country excluding area under inland water bodies.

Measurement unit: 
1'000 ha

Land cultivated with long-term crops which do not have to be replanted for several years (such as cocoa and coffee), land under trees and shrubs producing flowers (such as roses and jasmine), and n

Measurement unit: 
1'000 Ha

Land used permanently (five years or more) to grow herbaceous forage crops through cultivation or naturally (wild prairie or grazing land).

Measurement unit: 
1'000 ha

Disclaimer: The data displayed on the Land Portal is provided by third parties indicated as the data source or as the data provider. The Land Portal team is constantly working to ensure the highest possible standard of data quality and accuracy, yet the data is by its nature approximate and will contain some inaccuracies. The data may contain errors introduced by the data provider(s) and/or by the Land Portal team. In addition, this page allows you to compare data from different sources, but not all indicators are necessarily statistically comparable. The Land Portal Foundation (A) expressly disclaims the accuracy, adequacy, or completeness of any data and (B) shall not be liable for any errors, omissions or other defects in, delays or interruptions in such data, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. Neither the Land Portal Foundation nor any of its data providers will be liable for any damages relating to your use of the data provided herein.

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