Cambodia: Stolen land, stolen elections?

Cambodia: Stolen land, stolen elections?

Decades after the Khmer Rouge’s reign and after the end of the civil war in the 1990s, Cambodia is governed today by political elite that is criticized by international observers as being authoritarian and corrupt. State institutions and private investors are driving the exploitation of rural resources, which is accompanied by massive human rights violations, especially in regard to Cambodia’s indigenous population. Given the lack of rule of law and legal certainty, the parliamentary elections are hardly expected to be free and fair this year.

The National Electoral Commission’s announcement of a victory for Hun Sen and his party, who have been ruling since 1985, is being rejected by the opposition parties on grounds of suspected widespread voter fraud.

Our updated dossier analyzes the preliminary results of this year’s election and seeks, through a series of interviews, film contributions and studies, a critical examination of Cambodia’s development. In the process, we give representatives from Cambodian and German civil society and politics a chance to speak and also ask how responsible German and European policies towards Cambodia could look like, including what role should be allocated to Germany’s heavily criticized development cooperation in Cambodia. At the end of August, in advance of the negotiations between the German and Cambodian governments, an article on the official development cooperation with Cambodia will be released.

Elections in Cambodia 2013

Cambodia’s elections did not produce a clear winner – this alone is notable news for a country that has been governed by the same person for almost 29 years. However Prime Minister Hun Sen continues to sit tight at the reigns. What does this mean for the German development cooperation with Cambodia?
In the recent elections Premier Hun Sen of Cambodia has learned that a large part of the Cambodians want a new political leadership. But even though his party has lost many votes, a change in the repressive political system is currently very unlikely.
Our Cambodia office director Manfred Hornung has registered with Cambodia's National Election Committee (NEC) as an independent observer for the parliamentary elections. In his articles he reports about worried citizens and protests on the election day.
Given the candidacy of so many sons of leading CPP politicians – having a son and a son-in-law of Hun Sen in parliament is among their aspirations – the ruling party can therefore fully concentrate on establishing a new Cambodian dynasty. It has little to do with a liberal democracy.
Nobody expects free and fair elections in Cambodia. Dr. C. Kek Pung from the NGO LICADHO explains the irregularities of the electoral process and risks people take when observing the elections.
Thilo Hoppe, member of the German Bundestag for the Green party and vice chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Economic Cooperation and Development, comments on the expectations of the elections, on Hun Sen and the intended government negotiations between Germany and Cambodia this fall.

The overarching objective of this paper is to provide recommendations for the implementation of gender quotas in Cambodia. The paper first considers why it is important to achieve gender equality in politics, and asks eight individuals, who are working in Cambodia to promote the role of women in politics, why they think it is necessary for women to be represented in politics.

Land Grabbing and Eviction

In this interview Dr. C. Kek Pung, founder and president of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights talks about the main problems in Cambodia: land grabbing, poverty, trafficking and corruption. Even the EU has not taken any action to prevent injustices of the system and is still importing Cambodian "blood sugar".
The “Everything but Arms” trade initiative should bring benefit to the poeple of Cambodia, but the opposite is the case. Illegal methods were established to make profits out of the duty-free export of sugar. Even though there is a EU resolution emphasizing the critical escalation of human rights abuses and land grabbing due to the export of agricultural products, the resulting efforts of the EU are poor.
The EU Parliament requested the EU Commission in its resolution to monitor the implementation of the United Nations recommendations on the reform of the electoral system by the Cambodian government exactly. The elections are still used to strengthen the rule of the Prime Minister and the party to secure their privileges.

Despite the tens of millions of dollars in aid and concessional loans being spent in Cambodia, the evidence shows that tenure insecurity, forced evictions and large-scale land grabbing are escalating to alarming
levels. The paper calls on development partners to adopt a ten-pronged framework for a human rights approach to development.

This documentary takes a look at the recent campaign to free the 15 imprisoned Boeung Kak lake activists. The fifteen were arrested in late May 2012 during and after a peaceful protest highlighting a long-standing land dispute with Shukaku Inc. company, owned by a Cambodian ruling party senator. 

This paper examines the ongoing land registration process in six indigenous villages in Cambodia’s northeast. It was prepared for presentation at the "Annual World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty" in April 2013.

With the adoption of a new Land Law in 2001, the Royal Government of Cambodia initiated a comprehensive land reform process. By giving voice to these women, The Heinrich Böll Foundation hopes to contribute to improvements in the recognition and registration of women´s land rights in Cambodia. 

Video: Cambodia for Sale (2009, Khmer/engl.)

Women in Politics

The case study shows that by mobilising women, building networks and focusing on self-confidence and awareness of discrimination, it is possible to achieve important results in terms of women’s participation in social life and decision-making
Women´s political role in Cambodia is hampered by gender based discrimination, but woman have much to say about local political issues. This video explores the political problems faced by women in Cambodia, indigenous or Khmer, their visions about change and strategies that can allow them to gain a better share in governance.


Video: Empowering Women Over Cambodia´s Airwaves

Research Papers

Korea was widely portrayed in recent years as one of the top investors in Cambodia, with its investment reaching record levels in 2007 and 2008. Its influence also became noticeably visible, from the ubiquitous broadcasting of Korean productions by Cambodian TV and radio channels to the increasing number of Korean-led ambitious real estate projects in Phnom Penh. 
This study aims to provide a brief overview of bauxite mining in three key locations in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. It takes a deeper look into the role that China is playing in investing in bauxite mining and regional infrastructure to strategically position the country as the main market for bauxite, alumina and aluminum from these three countries.
This paper is confrontational and challenges many deep assumptions in mainstream development. It argues that from the early 1990s in many ways Cambodia became a ‘donor playground’. It supports this argument by reference to various arguments in development studies, to a specific case study of intervention in Cambodia, and to an examination of important parts of the relevant donor ‘knowledge production’.


The aim of our projects in Asia is to support the democratisation of the region and promote the recognition of human rights. Our work also focuses on promoting environmental sustainability and social justice.


Video: Urvashi Butalia on Women's Rights in India


Southasian Perspecitves on the West
with Pankaj Mishra (Historian) and Nadeem Aslam (Writer) on September 12th, 2014