The Reak Reay, or Happy Community started living on four hectares of land in the Tonle Bassac commune, Chamkarmon district, Phnom Penh in the 1990s. Many of the families now living in Reak Reay bought the land from soldiers who used to live there before. Before the beginning of the land dispute, more than 200 families lived in the community. Today, only about 60 families remain.
The land dispute between the community and Canadia Bank first began in 2005-2006, when Canadia Bank began filling in the land with sand. Many houses got damaged and fell into the Bassac river. The community approached the Khan authority and the National Authority for Land Dispute Resolution to resolve the dispute. In late 2006, the community received a court letter claiming that the land belonged to the Bassac Garden City/Canadia Bank. Research has shown that Bassac Garden City and Canadia Bank are the same, as phone numbers listed under Bassac Garden City in the telephone directory were answered by Canadia Bank.
In May 2007, community representatives were invited to the Khan authority to discuss plans by the Municipality of Phnom Penh for a road development. The Khan officials at the time informed the community that the Municipality would offer families a plot of land at a relocation site and US$800 if they vacated the land. In order to enable them to make a decision, the community representatives requested more detailed information about the road development and the size of the land needed for it. The community, in June 2007, decided to reject the offer from the Municipality and demanded to first see the master plan of the project before discussing issues of land expropriation and the market value of the land.
Following these discussions, in July 2007 the Governor of Phnom Penh ordered the community to vacate the ‘company land’ and to rebuild on the other side of the road and riverside in order to allow for the commencement of the road development project. Further discussions were then held between the community and authorities, leading to an offer of four different options for relocation and financial compensation from the Khan authority. Repeated requests by the community to see the master plan were rejected by the Khan authority and the Municipality. In November 2007, the Municipality again ordered the community to vacate the land and to relocate to a relocation site in Trapeang Anh Chan immediately, which the community again rejected.
In February 2007, the community was subjected to two eviction attempts. On 21 February 2008, construction workers removed marker posts from the communities land. When the community non-violently joined hands around the markers, a group of about 20 construction workers armed with sticks and rocks began pelting the villagers with rocks and debris. Upon vocal protest from the villagers, the foreman intentionally and deliberately struck one of the villagers on the head with a large stick imbued with nails. The victim was knocked unconscious, and fell face down into a water ditch. Only after community members took him to the hospital, where he received six stitches, did he recover consciousness. At least two other community members were injured. The police looked on in silence and refused to protect the Reak Reay villagers.
A further incident occurred on Monday 25 February 2008 when bulldozers were used by construction workers to encroach on the community’s land by pouring sand on their gardens and destroying their property as a result. Once again the construction workers behaved in an intimidating and threatening manner towards the Reak Reay families. The community responded peacefully by vocally objecting to the trespass and destruction of their property.
On 30 January 2009, the community received Notice No. 157 from the Council of Ministers informing the community of two final options:
§ Relocation: A house at a relocation site in Damnak Trayeung and US$10,000 financial compensation (comprising US$9,000 from Canadia Bank and US$1,000 from the Municipality;
§ Land sharing/on-site upgrading: A flat in one of three apartment blocks to be constructed in Reak Reay.
The letter entrusts the Governor of Phnom Penh, Kep Chuktema, with acting on the notice and with the implementation of the on-site upgrading plan. The notice advises the community to make a choice between the two options. The letter further states that the notice is in response to a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen on 23 January 2009 by the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Canadia Bank, seeking intervention from the Prime Minister on this issue. Prime Minister Hun Sen subsequently approved and forwarded the letter to the Council of Minister for further action, resulting in Notice No. 157.
Community members in Reak Reay can document their continued possession in good faith of their land, and therefore have possession rights under the Cambodian Land Law that make them eligible to receive ownership titles. However, due to limitations in the titling system, the families have been unable to obtain title documents. Even without ownership titles, the Cambodian Land Law guarantees exclusive rights to those who hold possession rights. This means that any interference with the rights of a lawful possessor are illegal, and that land transfer from the possessor to a third person can only occur if the possessor agrees to transfer the land. The families in Reak Reay have never agreed to transfer their land rights to Canadia Bank.
As mentioned above, families have indicated their preference for onsite upgrading. However, they have received no information about the implementation of the onsite upgrading plan, nor about where they would live during construction of the apartment blocks. Instead, their land has been fenced in and their houses are being demolished, leaving the families homeless.
At least 60 families living in the Reak Reay community, Tonle Bassac commune, Chamkarmon district, Phnom Penh, are facing imminent forced eviction. The families have been residing in the prime-city location since the 1990s, and have valid rights to the land under the Cambodian Land Law. The families have been resisting forced eviction attempts by Bassac Garden City and Canadia Bank since 2005. The companies want to evict the families to develop the land into a high-end residential area. In early March, construction workers began erecting a fence around the community’s houses. Since 15 March, construction workers have begun demolishing houses one by one. As of 16 March, at least 17
§ Respect and protect the housing and land rights of the Reak Reay community;
§ Facilitate fair negotiations between the Reak Reay community and the companies.
Please send an appeal letter by e-mail or fax to the addresses listed below requesting the Government of Cambodia to act on this issue.
H.E. Samdech Hun Sen
Office of the Council of Ministers
No 41, Russian Federation Blvd,
Fax: + 855 23 426 054
H.E. Kep Chuktema
Municipality of Phnom Penh
No 69 Preah Monivong Blvd,
Sangkat StrahChak, Khan Daun Penh
Fax: +855-23 724156
H.E. Sar Kheng
Deputy Prime Minister
Minister of Interior
275, Norodom Blvd.
Fax: +855 23 72 1905
H.E. Im Chhun Lim
Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction
771-773, Monivong Blvd.
Fax: +855 23 21 7035
Mr. Pung Kheav Se
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Canadia Bank PLC
265-269, Ang Duong Street
Kindly bcc a copy of your letter to HRTF so we can monitor the responses. Please note to bcc (blind carbon copy) and not cc
To read the Urgent Action appeal signed by HIC GS, clik here