MBBI Cambodia Report, February 21 to 27, 2016 Trip
Mediators Beyond Borders International (MBBI) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help build a more peace “able” world. MBBI works in partnership with mediation organizations and others around the world on collaboratively designed projects to build local conflict resolution capacity and promote the use of mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). www.mediatorsbeyondborders.org
The Cambodian Center for Mediation (CCM) works to promote a culture of dialogue, negotiation, win-win solutions, and healing for Cambodian citizens. For the past 6 years, CCM, which is a Cambodian NGO, has been providing high quality mediation services, education and training for the community, civil society and government in Cambodia. www.ccm-mediation.org
MBBI and CCM began working together in March 2015. CCM asked MBBI’s Dialogue Process Project team (one of MBBI’s project units, “the MBBI team”) to collaborate on a project exploring the possibility of using a consensus building dialogue process to bring together stakeholders to resolve land disputes in Cambodia.
Cambodia is at peace for the first time after decades of war. The Cambodian government has put great effort into rehabilitating the country, with emphasis on economic and infrastructure development. Land disputes have erupted when large economic land concessions (ELCs) have been granted to private companies from foreign countries such as China, Vietnam, Korea, etc. The foreign companies have been granted ELC licenses by the government to invest in agri-business.
Some of the land in ELCs overlaps with land where villagers and indigenous people are living. This is the cause of conflict and confrontation between people who do not want to relocate from the areas where they have lived and the companies who are investing in the same land. Some Khmer farmers and indigenous Cambodian tribes believe they own the land under a 2001 government article granting ownership to farmers who had been working the land for the 5 years prior to 2001. The government has a land titling process underway, but most farmers have not yet received title papers.
Because the companies have government-issued ELC papers, the police, military and private security forces have been removing some farmers from their land. Some companies, with interests in clearing and cutting the forested land for agribusiness, clash with the Cambodian villagers with interests in using forest resources to survive and with some indigenous tribes that believe the spirits of their ancestors live in the forests. Some of these villagers and indigenous people have created resistance and protest movements in some of Cambodia’s 25 provinces.
CCM and MBB share similar goals: building understanding about the interests of all parties in disputes through consensus building dialogues. We formed an assessment team which consists of four members of the MBBI team and 2 CCM team members to conduct feasibility interviews with different actors from national and international organizations, government ministries and the Cambodian National Assembly, all of whom intervene in land disputes in some manner.
The MBB team is led by Rachel Wohl, who, with team members Alan Gross, Laura McGrew and Katherine Triantafillou, visited Cambodia from February 21 to 27, 2016 to work with CCM to gain a deeper understanding of conditions in the country and to assess conflict resolution needs there. The MBBI team and CCM held joint meetings, conducted an NGO focus group, and attended a series of high-level interviews with government officials and NGO leaders in Phnom Penh. On February 26, 2016, MBBI and CCM conducted a workshop for Cambodian mediators and Cambodian NGO staff on the use of mediation and consensus building dialogues to resolve Cambodian land disputes and other conflicts.
The team is extremely fortunate to have members with a variety of areas of expertise. In particular, Laura McGrew’s history of years of consultancy work in Cambodia was invaluable. It was a great benefit to have the use of her skills speaking Khmer and her knowledge of the culture and the city. Furthermore, we met with several of her contacts who provided us with valuable insights into the politics, current government conditions and general background we needed to understand what is happening in Cambodia.
In general, our findings are that CCM has a number of possible options to advance ADR in Cambodia, strengthen its mediation services for distressed communities and pilot a consensus building dialogue for village level land disputes. The MBBI team hopes to continue to support CCM in these efforts.
Building upon traditional conflict resolution processes such as “samroh samrul,” there has already been extensive training done with Commune Dispute Resolution Committees, and District “Maisons de la Justice” in mediation, by a UNDP-funded project working with the Ministries of Justice and Interior. Other mediation efforts have been conducted by various NGOs as well. We were very encouraged to find that many people, especially senior government officials believe that the time is ripe to grow ADR and mediation, which is gaining recognition, in Cambodia.
In addition, we learned that the principals of CCM – Savath Meas, President of the Board of Directors, and Kakada Thorng, Executive Director – are well known and highly respected for their many years of work advancing mediation and training mediators and other conflict resolvers. In particular, in our interviews with the Honorable Pol Lim, Secretary of State for the Ministry of the Interior, and the Honorable Sok Bora, the Chief of a new Mediation Unit in the Ministry of Justice, both expressed strong support for ADR and appreciation for the expertise of CCM, particularly as mediation trainers. Both expressed their intentions of working with CCM to advance ADR in Cambodia. Both officials have been deeply involved in ADR and are positioned to be important leaders in growing peaceful conflict resolution across their country. There are interesting possibilities for future collaboration with both ministries.
There was also a good deal of interest in mediation from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). We met with Gallianne Palayret, Deputy Representative, and Bophal Keat, Human Rights Officer at OHCHR. They expressed interest in exploring working with CCM and sent someone from their office to attend our consensus building dialogue training. CCM plans to follow-up and is interested in visiting the OHCHR’s ongoing work with land disputes. They may also be interested in mediation training. CCM is planning to follow-up with OHCHR and our MBBI team about possibilities for collaboration.
There was similar interest expressed in several of our other meetings with: the National Assembly Human Rights Committee and two NGO’s, Equitable Cambodia and PACT. CCM is planning to follow-up with all to explore possible collaboration with the MBBI team, and to visit sites of ongoing work the NGOs are doing.
We observed in the NGO focus group that several NGO’s, which are actually advocates, are playing the role of “mediator” working on local village disputes. CCM plans to visit the several NGOs who are working on mediation, and is committed to future cooperation and discussion about initiating new approaches.
The consensus building dialogue training served as a successful introduction to the process, which is new in Cambodia. The MBBI team explained the process to the diverse group of 17 attendees and demonstrated it in the form of a role-play. All of the attendees were given stakeholder roles in a complex land dispute involving Khmer villagers, an indigenous tribe, four levels of local government officials and representatives of a Korean company. The role players were fully engaged and the drama and debrief were compelling. As time was short, in the workshop we were only able to provide a brief overview of the process, but we gave the participants an idea of the goals, possible stakeholders, and possible outcomes.
CCM put a great deal of work into arranging the NGO focus group, the government and NGO interviews, and the consensus building dialogue training, and the MBBI team visit was of assistance to CCM in furthering its goals. The visit was successful and laid the groundwork for continued collaboration between CCM and the MBBI team.
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