Challenges in tackling land issues in Cambodia

Cambodia is facing complex structural challenge to deal with land disputes. As the economy grows with high influx of capital investment ready to rip benefit from speculation and structural weaknesses of the land management system, tackling the land issues is becoming even more difficult.

The first Land Law was promulgated in 1992 and amended in August 2001. Cambodia has a dual land tenure system containing both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ titles. Soft title applies to land rights that are registered by a local authority. Hard title applies to land rights registered by national level under the jurisdiction of the Land Management and Planning office. Cambodia aims to eventually register all the estimated 7 million land parcels with nationally recognized hard title by 2021. By the end of December 2018, around 5.1 million land titles were issued, which is equivalent to 73.25%.

In any land dispute, it is extremely difficult to identify who is the real victim. There are conflicts between the poor and the rich but there are also conflicts among the riches. For instance, an anecdote had it that a commune chief certified soft title over the same plot of land to two different tycoons. When asked why he did so, the commune chief told the court that he had no choice because he was threatened by two very powerful tycoons.

Sim Vireak is Strategic Advisor to the Asian Vision Institute (AVI) based in Phnom Penh.

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