Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Show Summary Details
In This Section

Law and Development Review

Editor-in-Chief: Lee, Y.S.

2 Issues per year

See all formats and pricing
In This Section

Reversing Land Grabs or Aggravating Tenure Insecurity? Competing Perspectives on Economic Land Concessions and Land Titling in Cambodia

Christoph Oldenburg
  • NGO Forum, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
  • Email:
/ Andreas Neef
  • Corresponding author
  • Development Studies, School of Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, University of Auckland, Auckland 1142, New Zealand
  • Email:
Published Online: 2014-05-13 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ldr-2014-0014


This paper discusses Cambodia’s legal framework relating to Economic Land Concessions (ELCs) and looks at the implementation gaps. It argues that despite Cambodian’s legal framework governing land and ELCs being well-developed, its social benefits, such as protecting the rights of the poor and vulnerable and contributing to transparency and accountability, are almost non-existent. Recent evidence suggests that the Government’s handling of natural resources is a far cry from its official land policy which is “to administer, manage, use and distribute land in an equitable, transparent, efficient, and sustainable manner”. This paper argues that this is due to (1) a large gap between the country’s legal framework and the implementation of the country’s land concession policies and (2) a complete disregard of the country’s customary land rights. Widespread corruption and nepotism encourages growing inequality in land ownership and a significant power imbalance between small groups of powerful, politically and economically well-connected elites and poor and vulnerable people in Cambodia. This is exacerbated by the lack of implementation of appropriate regulations. This elite exercises control over the judiciary and has created a climate of impunity, thus hindering the overall implementation of the legal framework and serving their own interests. The paper further looks into recent Government actions such as the moratorium on ELCs and a new land titling initiative to re-allocate ELC area and forestland to the rural poor and assesses whether these actions have the potential to reverse or perpetuate the current inequality in land holdings.

Keywords: land grabbing; legal framework; land concessions; land titling; Cambodia


  • ADHOC, A Turning Point? Land, Housing and Natural Resources – Rights in Cambodia in 2012, 2013.

  • CCHR, CCHR Briefing Note February 2013, Judicial Reform. Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) (2013), Available at: <http://www.cchrcambodia.org/index_old.php?url=media/media.php&p=analysis_detail.php&anid=29&id=5>

  • DANIDA (Danish International Development Agency) and SCW (Save Cambodia’s Wildlife), “The Atlas of Cambodia: National Poverty and Environment Maps”, CD-Rom, 2007.

  • East-West Management Institute, Inc, (EWMI), “Land Law of Cambodia, A Basic Law Guide for Students and Practitioners”, Final draft, 23 October 2003.

  • Global Witness, Rubber Barons. How Vietnamese Companies and International Financiers are Driving a Land Grabbing Crisis in Cambodia and Laos (London: Global Witness Limited (Global Witness), 2013).

  • Kavenagh, Mark, Dom Renfrey and Erin Flynn, “Free, Prior and Informed Consent in the Development Process in Indigenous People Communities of Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri Province”, NGO Forum on Cambodia, 2012.

  • Lee, Ji-Sook, “Moving Beyond Misconceptions”, MH-Ethanol – Case Study of a Korean Agro-Industrial Investment in Cambodia, 2012.

  • Leemann, Esther, “Short Report on Committee Members of the 7 Indigenous Communities of Busra Commune (Pu Tuet, Pu Reang, Bu Sra, Pu Til, Lammeh, Pu Char, Pu Lu) Trying to Nullify Private Land Titles”, unpublished, 2013.

  • Loehr, Dirk, “Land Reforms and the Tragedy of the Anticommons – A Case Study from Cambodia”, 2012. [Web of Science]

  • MLMUPC, “Land is Life”, Newsletter, November 2011, Issue 2. Phnom Penh, Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction (MLMUPC), 2012.

  • Müller, Franz Volker and Günther Zülsdorf, Old Policies – New Action: A Surprising Political Initiative to Recognize Human Rights in the Cambodian Land Reform, paper prepared for presentation at the “Annual World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty”, The World Bank – Washington, DC (8–11 April 2013).

  • McKenney, Bruce, Yim Chea, Prom Tola, and Tom Evans, Focusing on Cambodia’s High Value Forests: Livelihoods and Management, Cambodia Development Resource Institute and Wildlife Conservation Society, Phnom Penh, 2004.

  • Neef, Andreas, Siphat Touch and Jamaree Chienthong, The Politics and Ethics of Land Concessions in Rural Cambodia, Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics [2013] (Online First – DOI 10.1007/s10806-013-9446-y). [Web of Science]

  • NGOF, Statistical analysis on land disputes in Cambodia, 2011 (Phnom Penh: The NGO Forum on Cambodia (NGOF), in press).

  • NGOF, Fact Sheet on Terms of Assistance of Foreign Concessional Loans to Cambodia, Aid Effectiveness Project in the Development Issues Programme, NGO Forum on Cambodia (NGOF) (2010). Can be downloaded at <http:/www.ngoforum.org.kh>.

  • NGOF, Statistical analysis on land disputes in Cambodia, 2010 (Phnom Penh: The NGO Forum on Cambodia (NGOF), 2011).

  • NGOF, NGO Position Papers on Cambodia’s Development in 2010-2012, Monitoring the Implementation of the National Strategic Development Plan and the 2010 CDCF Joint Monitoring Indicators, Phnom Penh: The NGO Forum on Cambodia (NGOF), 2012.

  • Pilorge, Naly, Anti-Corruption Views – The Great Cambodian Giveaway (2012a), Available at <http://www.trust.org/trustlaw/blogs/anti-corruption-views/the-great-cambodian-giveaway> (accessed 21 September 2012).

  • Pilorge, Naly, “Conflict over Land in Cambodia Is Taking a Dangerous Turn”, The Guardian, 25 September 2012b.

  • Pred, David, “Bittersweet. A Briefing Paper on Industrial Sugar Production, Trade and Human Rights in Cambodia” Bridges across Borders Cambodia (2010), Available at <http://babcambodia.org/developmentwatch/cleansugarcampaign/bittersweet.pdf>

  • Rabe, Alison, Directive 01BB in Ratanakiri Province: Cambodia, Issues and Impacts of Private Land Titling in Indigenous Communities (2013).

  • RGC, Instruction (Sechkdey Nainom) on Implementation of Land Use and Management Policy, Council of Minister, No. 03 SNN, 3 June 1989. Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC), 1989.

  • RGC, Land Law, Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC), 2001.

  • RGC, Sub Decree on Economic Land Concessions, Royal Government of Cambodia, No. 146 ANK/BK, 27 December 2005. Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC), 2005.

  • RGC, Sub-decree on Modification on the Sub-decree on Economic Land Concessions, Royal Government of Cambodia, No. 131, 2008a.

  • RGC, Protected Area Law, Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC), 2008b.

  • RGC, Declaration of the Royal Government on Land Policy’, No. 27, Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC), 2009.

  • RGC, National Strategic Development Plan Update 2009-2013, Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC), 2010.

  • RGC, Directive 01 on Measure to Strengthen and Foster Effectiveness of ELC Management, dated 7 May 2012 (Khmer version) (2012a), available at <http://mlmupc.gov.kh/?page=detail&menu1=118&ctype=article&id=118&lg=kh>

  • RGC, Instruction No 15 on the implementation of the Royal Government’s Directive No. 01 BorBor, dated 7 May 2012 on the strengthening and increasing the effective management of Economic land concession in areas of indigenous communities; evergreen forest, semi-evergreen forest, dense forest; and in areas of national defense bases and historical and cultural heritage sites, Supreme Council of State Reform, Council for Land Policy, Phnom Penh, 4 July 2012 (unofficial UNOCHCR translation), 2012b.

  • RGC, Instruction No. 020 on the implementation of the Royal Government’s Directive No. 01 BB, dated 07 May 2012 on the strengthening and increasing the effective management of Economic land concession in areas of indigenous communities. Supreme Council of State Reform, Council of Land Policy, Phnom Penh, 26 July 2012 (unofficial UNOCHCR translation), 2012c.

  • RGC, Royal Government of Cambodia, Ministry of Planning, Poverty in Cambodia – A New Approach, Redefining the Poverty Line, Phnom Penh, April 2013a.

  • RGC (2013b) An Approach Paper for the National Strategic Development Plan 2014-2018, Draft. Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC).

  • Sothath, Ngo and Chan Sophal, Cambodian Economic Association, in cooperation with NGO Forum on Cambodia, Phnom Penh “Economic Land Concessions and Local Communities”, 2012.

  • Sothath, Ngo and Chan Sophal, Cambodian Economic Association in cooperation with the NGO Forum on Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia “Agriculture Sector Financing and Services for Smallholder Farmers” Phnom Penh, 2010.

  • Sperfeldt, Christoph, Farrah Tek and Billy Chia-Lung Tai, An Examination of Policies Promoting Large Scale Investments in Farmland in Cambodia, Submitted to the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), November 2012.

  • Subedi, Surja P., A Human Rights Analysis of Economic and Other Land Concessions in Cambodia (2012), Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia, A/HRC/21/63/Add.1.

  • Kimsung, Tong, Analysing Chronic Poverty in Rural Cambodia: Evidence from Panel Data, CDRI Working Paper Series No. 66, February 2012.

  • Üllenberg, A., Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Land in Cambodia, Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) [2009].

  • UNDCF, Local Development Outlook Cambodia, 2010, United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), 2010.

  • UNDP, Raising Rural Incomes in Cambodia: Beyond Sectoral Policy, Towards a Framework for Growth, Discussion Paper No 4. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 2007.

  • US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2012 (2013), available at <http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/#wrapper>.

  • Vize, Jeff, and Manfred Hornung, Indigenous Peoples and Land Titling in Cambodia: A Study of Six Villages, paper prepared for presentation at the “Annual World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty”, The World Bank – Washington, DC (8–11 April 2013).

  • World Bank, Agriculture for Development: World Bank Report 2008, 2008.

  • World Bank, Poverty Profile and Trend in Cambodia: Findings from the 2007 Cambodia Socio Economic Survey (CSES) East Asia and Pacific Region, 2009.

  • World Bank, World Bank Country Data, Cambodia (2013a), Available at <www.worldbank.org/en/country/cambodia>.

  • World Bank, Access to Land Is Critical for the Poor, Published 11 April 2013, Abimbola Akosile (2013b), available at <http://farmlandgrab.org/post/view/21922>.

About the article

Published Online: 2014-05-13

Published in Print: 2014-10-01

Citation Information: Law and Development Review, ISSN (Online) 1943-3867, ISSN (Print) 2194-6523, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ldr-2014-0014. Export Citation

Citing Articles

Here you can find all Crossref-listed publications in which this article is cited. If you would like to receive automatic email messages as soon as this article is cited in other publications, simply activate the “Citation Alert” on the top of this page.

Kyle Frankel Davis, Kailiang Yu, Maria Cristina Rulli, Lonn Pichdara, and Paolo D’Odorico
Nature Geoscience, 2015
Yorck Diergarten and Tim Krieger
Law and Development Review, 2015, Volume 8, Number 1
Andreas Neef and Jane Singer
Development in Practice, 2015, Volume 25, Number 5, Page 601

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Log in