Directive 01BB in Ratnakiri Province Cambodia: Issues and Impacts of Private Land Titling in Indigenous Communities

TitleDirective 01BB in Ratnakiri Province Cambodia: Issues and Impacts of Private Land Titling in Indigenous Communities
Annotated RecordAnnotated
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsRabe A
Key themesAccessToJustice, Dispossession-grabbing, Formalisation-titling, MarginalisedPeople, Policy-law

In June 2012, the Cambodian Government issued a policy directing the private titling of all plots throughout the country’s rural areas. In this study conducted in collaboration with seven NGOs throughout 79 indigenous villages in Ratanakiri Province, indigenous leaders reported negative impacts of the policy including loss of communal land, lack of transparency and information, and coercion to privatize land. If the policy continues to be carried out over indigenous areas in its current form, it will exacerbate internal and external divisions in communities and conflicts with companies, complicate the legal rights framework, and ultimately cause loss of land and livelihoods for the indigenous people of Cambodia.


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Overall relevance: 

This article examines how an individualised land titling program implemented under Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Order 01 (also known as Directive 01BB) served to undermine communal land titling efforts and weaken indigenous land rights in Ratanakiri Province, in north-eastern Cambodia. Implemented ahead of national elections, the land titling campaign was touted by the Government of Cambodia as a means of resolving land conflicts between villagers and economic land concessionaries, and a way to give land back to communities. However, by only issuing private land titles, Order 01 failed to protect communal lands and in fact made these lands more vulnerable to seizure by companies. The article highlights the incompatibility of the Order 01 private land titling campaign with existing legal framework recognising communal land tenure rights of indigenous people. The case studies reveal that villages at different stages of applying for communal land titles were frequently pressured or coerced by those implementing the program to accept private land titles by presenting these as the only option for keeping their lands from being handed over to companies or the state. Far from resolving indigenous peoples’ disputes with companies, the research shows a potential for further aggravation as those communities which accepted private titles are now at greater risk of losing their communal lands to companies. Moreover, Directive 01BB left some communities divided between those who chose to accept private titles, and those who did not.

Key Themes: 
  • Dispute resolution and access to justice - The students who were charged with measuring land were not trained or equipped to handle or resolve complex land conflicts between companies and communities. In order to issue private titles, students often placed the responsibility for solving land disputes back onto communities who were locked in stalemates with companies who refused to acknowledge their position. Blocked from accessing support from NGOs as advisors, villagers were threatened and coerced into accepting private titles as the only option for resolving complicated disputes with companies.
  • Land dispossession/land grabbing - Most villages targeted by the land titling campaign lived near economic land concessions and were consequently put under pressure to secure their customary land ownership as quickly as possible. However, the process for obtaining communal land titles in Cambodia is slow and cumbersome, with various communities waiting more than ten years for claims to be processed. The research found that many communities in Ratanakiri would rather have secured their communal lands, but since the communal land titling process was taking too long, the company would soon clear the rest of their land if they did not accept the private titles. The study also found that the issuing of private land titles divided communities into a patchwork of individualised plots which increased their vulnerability to land seizures from companies. Particularly in cases where households experience financial hardship, companies are able to pressure households to sell their land for below market prices. Indigenous communities are being forced to make difficult choices between individual and communal land title, yet neither option safeguards against dispossession by companies and other powerful actors.
  • Land rights recognition/formalization/titling/collective tenure - The discourse championing formalisation of title as the silver bullet for resolving conflicts over land, and to ensure security of tenure, is problematic. Ethnic communities fighting for communal tenure rights have been effectively blocked by projects which coerce them into accepting private land titles. As a result of this pressure, village heads have reported divisions in their communities, loss of momentum towards their goals of achieving communal title, and increases in land dispossession. Rather than increasing their security of tenure, privatisation of land tenure has in some cases undermined it, as companies are able to apply pressure on individual holders more effectively than they are able to challenge a unified community.
  • Marginalized people's land rights and access: ethnic minorities, poor and women - The extent to which methods of intimidation and coercion were utilised by the students who surveyed land as well as local authorities raises questions about why private land title is so highly prioritised by the state and why communal title was excluded from Order 01. Part of the answer to this question may be found in the derogatory manner in which students talked about communal land tenure, including comparing it to land arrangements under the Pol Pot regime. This emotionally potent comparison points to the historical shaping of anxieties within contemporary neoliberal projects of privatisation.
  • Land policy and land law - Whilst the 2001 Cambodian Land Law acknowledges communal tenure rights, these laws were effectively undermined by Order 01. Private title was presented to ethnic communities as an ultimatum: accept it or risk losing your land completely. Confusion brought about as a result of constant changes to the Directive created a climate of uncertainty and fear, allowing those behind the titling campaign to manipulate villagers into participating without being fully informed about the implications of accepting private title for ongoing communal land rights claims. Lack of transparency and misinformation in the process of implementing the titling campaign is in contravention of formal commitments to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Research basis: 

This report is the output of research conducted by seven NGOs in 79 villages in Ratanakiri Province, northeast Cambodia, over two months in 2013. Of the 79 villages investigated, 26 were affected by Order 01. Information was collected through interviews, group consultations and questionnaires. The research included villages representing seven different ethnic groups.