Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Background to charges against human rights defenders in land conflict between indigenous people in Rattanakiri province and the private company, D.M. GROUP Co. Ltd

The below information we received from ADHOC central office which address the issue to public to consider relating the background to charges against human rights defenders in land conflict between indigenous people in Rattanakiri province and the private company, D.M. GROUP Co. Ltd

Phnom Penh, 14 September 2011

Land occupation in Patang village

After the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, indigenous people of Patang village, Patang commune, Lom Phat district, Rattanakiri province, came to live in the Kanorngkit village situated in Kaleng commune, Lom Phat district, Rattanakiri Province. Around 136 families occupied an area of 260 hectares at Chamkar Mai point, which was made up of the ancestral land of indigenous people from Kanorngkit. The land contained one of many sifting cultivations belonging to the Tumpoun indigenous of Kanorngkit. In 2005, the 260 hectares occupied by the Patang indigenous was appropriated by Patang village, causing conflict. The Tumpoun indigenous in Kanorngkit village claimed that it was essential that Chamkar Mai remain part of their village as it was necessary for their sifting cultivation, which is central to their indigenous way of life, as it was for their ancestors before them.

Background of the land conflict in Patang village

The conflict between the people of Patang village and the people of Kanorngkit village:
In 2005 the indigenous people of Kanorngkit village, Kaleng commune, attempted to claim their ancestral land from the indigenous people who originally lived in Patang village but who moved to Kanorngkit in 1979, causing conflict between the two groups. This tension was largely due to the fact that the indigenous people of Patang village occupied an area of ancestral land where the indigenous of Kanorngkit conducted sifting cultivation and the borders had recently been moved to make this land part of Patang village. When such conflict arises between indigenous peoples, there are traditional methods of resolution based on custom that includes the participation of the tribal leaders, the local authorities and the people from the two villages.

Claiming of land and resolution
The people from Kanorngkit village, Kaleng commune, claimed their ancestral land back from the people of Patang village in 2005. If the land were not handed over, the people of Patang village would be obliged to pay compensation according to the traditions of the indigenous peoples. In this case the indigenous people of Patang, agreed to pay indigenous traditional compensation to the people living in Kanorgnkit village to the amount of 5million riels, instead of returning the land. The people from Kanorngkit were satisfied and ceased their efforts to retrieve the land from its new location in Patang village.

Conflict between the indigenous of Patang and the D.M. GROUP Co. Ltd
Most of the indigenous of Patang belong to the Tumpuon tribal group, consisting of 136 families. They had carried out traditional methods of agriculture on the area of 260 hectares, located in Patang village, since they moved there in 1979 up until 2006, and were relatively undisturbed. Then in July 2006, four people from Sayoars village, Kalang commune, and one person from Oseang Le village, Kalang commune, sold the 260 hectares of land in question to Phe Dalin living in Phnom Penh. Thus began the land conflict between the indigenous of of Patang and the D.M. Group Co. Ltd.

Conflict Resolution
On 12 June 2008, the National Conflict Resolution Committee conducted a resolution consultation between the D.M. Group Co. Ltd and the people living in Patang village on the 260 hectares in question. The meeting was held in Patang commune office. The participants included Kong Nghim, the company representative and four peoples’ representatives: Mr. Swin Vev, Mr. Plang Nea, Mr. Thong Ty, and Mr. Yang Thorn. These four represented the 136 indigenous families living in the village. The National Conflict Resolution Committee members present were In Virak Cheat, Moa Sovathnea and Koa Kangarith. The local authority representatives included Patang Village Chief, Sayoars village chief, the tribal leaders, Patang commune chief, the deputy chief commander of the army at Lomphat district, the police chief of the district, the district governor and the chief of the district office of urbanisation and construction. Through this mediation the company agreed to pay 4,000USD and then an additional 1,000USD when some villagers expressed dissent. However, two representatives, Mr Yang Thorn and Mr. Swin Vev remained in disagreement and did not give their thumbprints to the company. Swin Vev and Yang Thorn said that they did not sell the community’s collective land to the company in the first place; they wanted only to have the land returned to them, so that they could carry out their traditional cultivation and rare their children and grandchildren. The men claimed that without the land, the people or the traditions would not survive.

D.M. Group’s means of obtaining the 260 hectares of conflicted land
The D.M. Group obtained the 260 hectares of conflicted land through striking a deal with the five people mentioned above, in agreement with Sayoars village local authorities, Kalang commune chiefs and Lomphat district governor. The group in question sold the indigenous people’s collective land to the company without consulting the people themselves. According to the law, the selling and buying of indigenous people’s land is against article 23, 25, 26 and 28 of the Land Law 2001. The land in question was public state land; even the community themselves had no right to sell any part of their collective land that was ultimately branded state property.[1]

Charges from the courts against the indigenous people living in Patang village
After they refused to accept any compensation from the company in 2008, the indigenous people living in Patang started carrying out cultivation on the collective land that was grabbed by the company through the mentioned deal struck with five people with no legal rights to the land, as outlined above. The indigenous community filed a complaint to the local authority, the district and provincial authorities, and even to the courts, about the land grabbing conducted by the company on over 200 hectares of land. No resolution had been reached so far when there was a warrant from the courts accusing Swin Vev and Yang Thorn of using violence against the legal property owners. This violent action was purported to have happened on the 22 and 23 November 2008 against the property owner, Ms. Kim Chamroeun, the director of the company.

On 27 November 2008 Mr. Yang Thorn and Swin Vev were asked by Mr. Justice Thoa Saron, the investigating judge of Rattanakiri provincial court, to respond to charges. The two representatives appeared at court, resulting in Mr. Yang Thorn being arrested and detained, in a hasty decision by Judge Saron. Mr Swin Vev was not detained at this time.

The summoning of Human Rights Activists, Pen Bonnar and Chhay Thy
After the charging, arrest and detention of the victims’ representatives, some indigenous people were asked by Judge Saron about the activities of Mr. Pen Bonnar, in Patang village. Swin Vev said in his complaint filed to ADHOC on 9 November 2009 that he was forced by the judge to say that he had been incited, amongst others, to use violence against the company executives by the activists Pen Bonnar and Chhay Thy and the journalist Ratha Visal. Swin Vev said that the written complaint was handed to him directly by the Patang commune chief, Mr. Ke Cham, to be passed off as his own words. Judge Saron told villagers to come to him with the draft complaint, which was in reality written for them by the commune chief, claiming that they had used violence due to incitement by the three men. Pen Bonnar was summoned by the investigative judge on 29 July 2009 to respond to the complaints against him, claiming that he had lead villagers to carry out violent acts against the legal property owners.    

Finally the investigative judge decided to delay this meeting with Pen Bonnar subject to negotiation with ADHOC representatives. On 2 September 2011, the newly appointed investigation judge Mr. Loch Lau, replacing the retired Mr. Saron, summoned the three men to appear at court on 19 September 2011 at Rattanakiri Province, subject to the charges of incitement made in 2009. As for the charges against the three men, Judge Saron had not made these in accordance with the law: article 125, paragraph 1 and 2 of the New Penal Procedure Code. The three-year long suspension of the case from, 2008 to 2011 was a strategy to prevent Pen Bonnar from conducting his human rights activities in support of the people of Rattanakiri province. Bonnar always carried out human rights activities according to ADHOC protocol and principals, sensitizing Cambodian people to human rights law and democracy, which are upheld by the Cambodian Constitution of 1993. Mr Pen Bonnar only ever explained human rights and the right to protect natural resources according to the law to the indigenous people in the villages of Rattanakiri. He always encouraged them not to use violence in their conflicts and protests. He educated the indigenous people in accordance with the recommendations made by the Prime Minister Hun Sen himself, regarding the protection of natural resources in Cambodia.

The activities of Pen Bonnar have never been carried out in disrespect of the law and the Constitution of the Royal Government of Cambodia. On the contrary, Pen Bonnar consistently acted within the law to actively uphold human rights and the protection of human rights and democracy in Cambodia.       

[1] Now such land can be appropriated legally by the indigenous communities through a legal provision for community land registration 

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