Saturday, August 25, 2007

Update on Dey Krahom

I've received the following message from Lee Robinson which sets out the existing status of the Dey Krahom community in Phnom Penh. I print it here in case you wish to find out more about this particular situation.
Dear friends and supporters of Dey Krahom community,
It has been a while since I’ve been able to update about DK community and part of the reason is because we have been discovering many amazing things about their struggle and situation. We are producing a comprehensive report but in the meantime, here is a brief synopsis. We’ve always looked at Dey Krahom as a village that housed the largest group of traditional Master musicians and that alone made it a fascinating community. They teach local children their traditions and struggle to conserve these dying art forms against all odds. As we took a closer look at their situation and deepened friendships with the Masters, we uncovered a fascinating unknown story of a village cheated out of their land, resisting authorities and evictions against all odds. Without the support of a fair and just legal system and with Cambodia’s recent history of forced evictions, it’s a miracle that they have resisted this far.
Families began arriving on this land to make their home after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime. [1979] According to these families, the land was a swamp filled plot with many trees. They cleared the trees and as it could be afforded, they built up the land with the red soil that gives the community its name today. The Khmer Rouge had abolished all land titles and ownership laws during their four year rule and Cambodia has been struggling ever since to redistribute land to a nation of displaced people with few records on ownership. In 2001, Cambodia passed a law giving ownership rights to occupiers of land whose peaceful and uncontested possession exceeds five years. This included Dey Krahom residents and in 2002, the Municipality hand delivered land concession documents. The families were told that in five years they could apply for land deeds. While residents carried on with their lives, sneaky deals were taking place which resulted in a corrupt village chief trading the Dey Krahom land in exchange for housing on a relocation site far from the city. By the time residents discovered the illicit deal, the damage was done and all fat-cats involved were patting their bulging pockets.
In 2005, 344 families were allegedly forced to participate in a ‘lottery’ which determined their house number at the relocation site 20 km outside Phnom Penh. The remaining families ignored the constant intimidation and refused to acknowledge the illicit contract which did not represent their interests. Not knowing who they could trust after such manipulation, the residents took it upon themselves to democratically elect 30 village representatives who would fairly defend their rights.
Since then, these families have resisted violence, intimidation, threats, bogus criminal charges and hundreds of armed military police and plain clothes police. [armed with machine guns, axes and iron rods] Opposed to relocation, they have insisted they want to cooperate with a Government-designed plan to develop their land while building new housing for the families on-site. No one would listen so the village representatives pushed onward. Through cooperation with another organization, they created their own blue-prints of how this housing could work, complete with cost assessment for developer and agreed to by majority vote of the village. This is called ‘bottom up’ action, the most respected of movements. No leader, no guidance.....just sheer will and unity. They are asking for nothing more than for all shareholders to respect the Cambodian law and allow them to remain on land that is legally theirs. Dey Krahom is a fascinating story from a legal, journalistic, community, and humanitarian perspective. LICADHO Canada is currently compiling a comprehensive report on the history and legalities of Dey Krahom. We must stand in Solidarity with the villagers and help them get the tools and resources they need to further their successes. The time is NOW, as Cambodia’s recent history shows that police can get seriously violent when big companies ask for the removal of families. [see LICADHO website for other land cases]. We have located a few partners to join in Solidarity with us. [Bridges Across Borders, Cambodian Kids, LICADHO and Housing Rights Task Force]. We have highlighted the immediate needs which I have listed below. Please review and contact me if you have ideas or means to support and/or advocate for these initiatives:
Legal Representation: The village would like to challenge the legality of the illicit contract which signed away their land. They have gathered all legal documents and records of their efforts to engage the Municipality. Most NGO [Legal Aid] Lawyers are only permitted to defend criminal cases while Dey Krahom’s legal struggle is a civil case under Cambodia law. Legal Aid lawyers allowed to take civil cases have already long since exceeded their maximum case load. The only option left is to hire a private lawyer. It is estimated that we will need $8,000 - $10,000 US. Bridges Across Borders and LICADHO Canada need to raise the first $2,000 to get these proceeding going as soon as possible. BAB has already donated the first $500. We need people to raise money for this issue or strategize who we should be asking for this support. We also need assistance in drafting said letters. All relevant information will be provided to those who wish to be active in this.
Translation costs: LICADHO Canada has just paid $180 US on our visa for the translation of Dey Krahom’s legal documents needed for analysis and to accompany our report with will be shared with all relevant partners and lawyers. Our report is the first document to explain Dey Krahom – history to present. This was such a necessity that we could not wait for the application for funds so if someone can find a pocket of money somewhere to pay for this, it would be greatly appreciated during the foundation’s financially difficult times.
Piseth’s costs: Piseth not only translates between villagers and LICADHO Canada, he has the complete trust of DK village representatives and Musicians and is their contact person when police arrive in the village to intimidate them. Piseth is a major safety measure and we need to continue to pay his $200/month [US] salary. [Minimum four months, retroactive to Aug 16, 2007] He’s worth every penny.
Documentation: In a blue sky world, Dey Krahom story would have been filmed and documented from the beginning. Better late than never. LICADHO Canada already has a film maker committed to making the documentary and we have created a video demo to get financial support. The problem we are facing is no man power to distribute the demo or apply for these funds. If anyone knows producers or donors of documentaries or would like to send out demos, please contact me as soon as possible.
Please take a moment to assess these emergency needs. Contact me if you can support us in any capacity. This story has so much potential not only for a happy ending but to set a new trend in Cambodia that will halt these illegal displacements of so many people. Contact Lee here.

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