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

Christoph Oldenburg / Andreas Neef
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  • Development Studies, School of Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, University of Auckland, Auckland 1142, New Zealand
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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


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About the article

Published Online: 2014-05-13

Published in Print: 2014-10-01

Citation Information: Law and Development Review, Volume 7, Issue 1, Pages 49–77, ISSN (Online) 1943-3867, ISSN (Print) 2194-6523, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ldr-2014-0014.

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