Since 1990, successive waves of foreign experts have introduced legal transplants into Cambodia dealing with the possession, use, and ownership of land. The Land Law of 2001, sponsored by the World Bank, first created a registration system that made land ownership dependent exclusively on a central cadastral registry. The 2007 Civil Code, sponsored by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, subsequently cast doubt on the exclusivity of the registry by declaring it only presumptive evidence of ownership. Both laws are based on foreign models that presume economic, technical, and professional resources that Cambodia, as a very poor, post-conflict country, lacks. Despite recent efforts to reconcile the laws, implementation remains uneven and legal ambiguity persists. While it is too early to make conclusive judgments, the Cambodian experience brings into question not only the wisdom of top-down foreign intervention but also the desirability of any form of centralized formal legal construction in a society without the necessary social, political, and institutional prerequisites.
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