Dispute resolution and access to justice

Overview:

Increasing land pressures in the Mekong Regions have generated numerous disputes.  While many of these disputes are amongst neighbours, their generation is often an indirect consequence of policies and practices of more powerful actors and the displacements and competition over land generated by its commodification.  Access to justice is circumscribed by limited access to legal redress and by the political limits to resistance and public complaint under authoritarian regimes. Land disputes are much more open in some parts of the Mekong Region than others, and legal redress is similarly quite uneven over the regional landscape.  It is important to understand the specific contexts of dispute resolution and justice procedures in dealing with each case, and reform measures need to look well beyond land issues per se.

Key reform issues:

  • Freedom from fear of retribution in the case of complaints
  • Specialised legal assistance for complainants in land dispossession cases
  • Equality before the law in land disputes
  • Recognition of customary claims
  • Sustained and open media attention to land disputes and their causes
  • Support for advocates of land justice within relevant government agencies
  • More adequate compensation policies and their enforcement

Current critique and debate:

There is a continuing climate of fear around land disputes in most Mekong countries.  In some cases extra-juridicial state violence is the main constraint, while in others it is the influential private actors or military beneficiaries of regressive land policy who are behind the actual or threatened violence.  The extent to which the courts can be relied upon for impartial justice is a key issue in all the countries in question.  Within civil society, the seeking of justice through formal processes versus overt or quiet resistance continues to set choices that are closely connected with the specific circumstances surrounding each dispute.

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