The United Nation’s human rights envoy Surya Subedi met yesterday with the president of Cambodia Chamber of Commerce, Kith Meng, to discuss human rights and economic growth in the Kingdom.
At the top of the agenda was the management of economic land concessions and the role businesses have to play in the displacement of people from their land, Subedi said after the meeting.
“We discussed also the Borei Keila, Beoung Kak lake and a number of areas where land grabbing has been a problem, where people have not been consulted, negotiated and compensated properly,” he added.
Subedi said talks were positive and that he felt optimistic after leaving the discussion.
“Human rights and economic growth are not opposed to each other, they can go hand in hand. How best they can go together – that is where Cambodia Chamber of Commerce has role to play,” he added.
A 2013 report by the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights indicated that, since 2000, more than 700,000 people have been negatively affected by ELCs nationwide, with almost a fifth of Cambodia’s land area handed over to private companies.
Since 2012, the government says it has reclaimed more than 600,000 hectares of leased land from 71 private companies for failing to meet their commitment to develop the land.
Speaking on behalf of CCC president Kith Meng, the chamber of commerce director-general, Ngoun Meng Tech, said the role of the CCC in land disputes was limited.
The issue of underdeveloped ELCs and land grabbing was down to “opportunist” protesters and companies looking to make a quick buck, Tech said.
“So far, the ELCs have not been monitored well as opportunists come out and join land grabbing protests,” Tech said.
“There are also cases of companies that want a return for their investment too soon and they are not doing things according to their master development plan of the ELC,” he added.
Tech said that none of CCC’s members were heavily invested in ELCs and it was the responsibility of the authorities to monitor human rights.
The ministry of Agriculture this week said a total of 115 ELCs, covering a land area of 1.2 million hectares, are currently under review for their lack of development. Vietnamese and Chinese companies hold the majority of land concessions in Cambodia, with 82 concessions in 17 provinces.
“I support the government to take back the ELCs which are not developed,” said Srey Chanthy, an independent economic analyst who specialises in agriculture.
“Though there is recent termination on ELC to those companies who failed to archive their master plan, I have not seen any long term policy or mechanism to better manage ELCs,” he said.
The seized ELCs will have little impact on Cambodia’s economy as so far the return from concessions has been relatively low Chanthy said.
If managed correctly by “serious” investors, economic concessions could make a decent economic contribution he added.