Russey Sros Community is located in a residential area at Group 7 and 8, Russey Sros Village, Sangkat Niroth, Khan Chbar Ampov, in Phnom Penh. It was originally settled in 1979. There are 465 people living in the area, consisting of 100 families, occupying 100 houses. All residents are ethnically Khmer, and include eight individuals who are disabled. In 2010, the community met to re-select a new representative under supervision by Urban Poor Women Development (UPWD), World Vision Cambodia, Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT) and local authorities. At a June meeting in 2015, the Sangkat recognized that the Russey Sros community lives on private land that they themselves own. However, the community has not undergone the Systematic Land Registration process, without which no family can obtain a formal land title.
Despite the fact that they live on private land, residents may still face pressure to relocate. During an informal discussion with the Municipality of Phnom Penh (MPP), residents were made aware that the MPP plans to build a bridge from Koh Pich across the River, through their community. However, families have yet to receive any official notifications regarding these plans.
The community has lived under continuous fear of eviction, ever since they first heard of the MPP’s plan to build a bridge across the river which would force them to relocate. The community has access to electricity provided by the state and buys water from the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority. There is no communal street lighting, nor are there any drainage systems. Some residents have a private toilet, while others use a “flight toilet” – wherein they relieve themselves in a plastic bag and then throw the bag away. There is no rubbish collection. Flooding has also been an issue throughout the three preceding rainy seasons, sometimes lasting more than four weeks.
The community comprises a number of challenges. These include water and air pollution, domestic violence, rampant drug and alcohol abuse; not to mention infrastructure challenges such as the lack of a proper drainage system, hygienic toilets, and the dilapidated state of homes in the area. Families living there are also concerned about the threat of eviction, and flooding problems.
Intervention by STT
Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT) has monitored the situation and collected information in the area since 2012. STT has also attempted to map the community, but this has yet to happen. The community empowerment project invited community representatives to attend community exchange visits both in Phnom Penh and in the province. These visits enabled them to witness real urban situations and provided great opportunities for communities to share knowledge. The communities notably demanded land tenure security through the implementation of systematic land registration. Additionally, community representatives and members were
invited to participate in the quarterly meetings that were conducted four times per year. It was a great opportunity for urban communities to meet each other, and to share challenges, experiences, and knowledge. This helped mobilize networks of communities to support each other through social activities with the aim of protecting their land and housing rights from the government and private companies. Exchange Learning visits helped increase capacity for community representatives to be able to exercise leadership within their community. Moreover, community members or representatives were able to gain from the project’s training. Training topics included the land law, secular 03, human rights, non-violence strategies, the basics of ICT, social media (Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal, Citizen Journalism, Digital Security, Photo and Video making, and so on). The purpose of these trainings was to strengthen community capacity to protect their land and housing rights, and to be able to claim land title and security.
STT’s projects always teach how to produce community plans, monthly meetings, and ways to engage with local authorities for Sangkat Development action plans. Projects also teach advocacy and ICT skills, and how to monitor and reflect, once the activities are underway. Participants were also encouraged by the project to participate in a national forum on housing policy that was held by the Ministry of Land Management Urban Planning and Construction.
Result/ Outcome/ Change
After the projects, the Russey Sros community has become stronger and has developed good relationships with other urban land communities as well as local authorities. They now have the capacity to lead community and advocacy activities more independently, and with confidence. After the community’s struggles which lasted about 18 years, community residents are now waiting for the official land title from Khan Chbar Ampov, as the measuring process of each household is underway. The community members hope that they will get the land title in early 2022.
Since the community representatives and members have joined the trainings, quarterly meetings, workshops, forums, exchange learning visits, NGO advocacy, and Facebook live shows, they have learned about human rights, about land and housing rights, how to protect themselves from forced eviction, and what the main legal documents are, for demanding land and housing rights.
Community representatives and members have understood their rights and now have the capacity to conduct any activity both within the community and outside the community in order to discuss issues and to seek solutions from local authorities. Moreover, they have been submitting petitions to relevant government institutions which enables them to demand interventions on their land dispute. Furthermore, community members joined other communities and civil societies to participate in international events that promote human rights such as World Habitat Day, and International Human Rights Day. In addition, community members always conduct monthly meetings among themselves if they have urgent tasks to be discussed or need to mobilize support from NGOs like STT.
Throughout their monthly meetings, the community members have gained strength and empowerment by promoting discussion and sharing knowledge, experiences, and new approaches for claiming land titles for many years.
In October 2021, the authorities set up a committee for measuring the GPS of each household. They were informed that all households submitted their documents to relevant authorities to provide land titles where they are located.
The community leader of the community Mrs. Sek Saly, 53 years old, living with her husband and one daughter, told STT: “I am so happy to work for my community members and I want to help lift them out of poverty, I put my heart and soul into helping them to get Equity Cards and am waiting to see the result of land titles in the near future”.
Saly added: “Thanks to STT for supporting our community and training us to engage with local authorities in difficult times to achieve the recent changes in the community. STT helped me and other community members to know human rights, land rights, housing rights, communicating with community networks, NGO partners, and how to advocate for a proper solution. I suggest that STT provide more training to them to be able to share in the community.”