In Cambodia, DRL and the East-West Management Institute (EWMI) tackle land rights – a cornerstone issue that impacts democracy, human rights, and rule of law in the country. Through support from the Human Rights and Democracy Fund (HRDF), EWMI strives to improve land tenure security by informing citizens of their rights to acquire and preserve full ownership of their land and by assisting in the peaceful resolution of land disputes.
The “Safeguarding Cambodians’ Land Rights” project uses innovative means to help spread awareness on land rights among the underserved population living in remote areas of Cambodia. Despite frequently impassable roads and inclement weather in the target areas, EWMI and its local partner, Action IEC, conducted ten all day “road show” festivals for over 21,000 attendees that used theatrical and musical performances to provide information on land rights in an accessible way. During the shows, the audience members participated in quiz contests on knowledge of land law, including the Cambodian Land Law of 2001, conditions for legally owning land, ways to prove land possession, and ways to resolve land disputes. EWMI and Action IEC teams addressed questions from the public and developed a Frequently Asked Questions booklet for future use. EWMI was able to use DRL funding as a pilot model to garner other donor support. Due to the success of the DRL-funded road shows, the organization secured additional international support to conduct 14 further road shows on land rights. The additional road shows expand the impact of the project as originally conceived, while benefiting from previous successes and experiences.
The DRL-funded project also trained over 100 grassroots civil society workers as Party Assistants who serve as land law resources for the public and help resolve land disputes. The Party Assistants ensure underserved groups are fairly protected by the law and help mitigate escalation of violence over land. In one instance, an EWMI-trained Party Assistant helped a community of 300 households resolve a dispute with former soldiers who claimed they owned the land before the war. As a result of this project, 288 of the 300 households successfully retained their land and all cases were settled amicably.
This creative project continues to spread understanding of land rights and dispute resolution procedures among the public. Currently, EWMI is developing pilot programs to advance land security by helping members of two remote communities
comprehensively document land history in their communities and preserve this documentation until the land is registered, which could take another 10-15 years. In addition, EWMI is working with the Party Assistants to establish land law resource centers to extend the project’s sustainability.