Fed by Chinese government’s overwhelming aid, loans, grants, and investments combined with the Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ambitions to stay in power and corruption at the local levels –a controversial economic land concession to Chinese state-owned conglomerate Guangdong Hengfu Group Sugar Industry Co., Ltd (Hengfu) granted in 2011 continue to operate despite complaints from local communities including lack of compensation and violations of land ownership laws.
The Hengfu case has become one of the major land disputes in the country as it violates a law that prevents any one entity from receiving a concession of more than 10,000 hectares (24,700 acres) from the State.
Hengfu is mainly producing diversified sugar products for export, and it was granted around 36,000 hectares of land to convert into sugarcane fields.
As of 2016, 13,000 hectares or 36 percent of the land granted are now being used for sugarcane farming. These were former rice fields, grasslands, and forest areas – the source of life and livelihood of the Khmer and indigenous Kuoy people of Preah Vihear province.
ELCs are public agricultural lands leased to private enterprises for decades. They are among Cambodia’s main mechanisms to draw in foreign direct investments to agro-industry that could supposedly drive development in the country. While there are sub-decrees and other laws that specify the measures and parameters in relation with ELCs (Open Development Cambodia, 2015), Cambodia’s malpractice in awarding ELCs and holding corporate investors accountable has only furthered landlessness in the country.
Given the political situation in Cambodia, it is very difficult to rely on government intervention in regulating the excesses especially by Chinese private enterprises to the land and people of Cambodia. Meanwhile, the villagers of Preah Vihear are utilizing various legal and meta-legal means to protest the company and assert their right over their land in the past five years. They have been able to draw in support at the national and international levels.
The governments of Cambodia and China should fulfill its obligations in upholding the rights of peoples as mandated by Cambodia’s Constitution and international covenants and conventions that enshrine human right.
On the other hand, the China’s investing enterprises in Cambodia should practice the State-promoted Corporate Social Responsibility and Guidelines for Environmental Protection in Foreign Investment and Cooperation to address the many corporate abuses happening in investments overseas. They have the responsibility to respect human rights following international and national legal frameworks that uphold and protect the rights to land, territories, economy, culture, tradition, and natural resources.
Opportunities for various policy and advocacy actions must be maximised by CSOs to alleviate the conditions in Cambodia. These measures, coupled with the active movement among communities could bring significant changes that genuinely benefit the people of Cambodia.
For inquiries, contact Peoples Coalition for Food Sovereignty (PCFS) / CPDE Rural Secretariat thru firstname.lastname@example.org