International Day of the World’s Indigenous People celebrates the importance of indigenous communities and their cultures.
There are 24 groups of indigenous peoples scattered over 15 provinces of Cambodia, contributing to approx. 1.2 % of the total population. They play an important role in managing forest resources, contributing to climate change management, which affects all Cambodians. NGO Forum works with other NGOs and many indigenous communities to help protect their traditional cultures, their land and economic rights, and to eliminate discrimination.
“Indigenous peoples need our support to survive”, said Mr Chhith Sam Ath, Executive Director of NGO Forum.
“Their livelihoods depend completely on access to natural resources and forests. Yet their ability to achieve land title and economic security is increasingly being undermined. We must all work together to ensure their rights are protected”, he said.
The International Day of the World’s Indigenous People is also an opportunity to call for improvements in existing laws and policies to ensure their access to basic human rights, and the sustainability of indigenous peoples’ ways of life.
Indigenous communities are very vulnerable to commercial and state interests which are increasingly attracted to exploiting the economic potential of the forests and upland areas of their homeland. Their livelihoods have become endangered by unchecked development as hydropower, mining developments and the impact of economic land concessions strip the forests and destroy their capacity to extract a living from the land.
Legislation exists to ensure the security of land access for indigenous peoples, and the Land Law of 2001 includes a chapter on registration of communal lands of indigenous communities’ land in the form of communal land titles as well as protection in the interim. However, these legal instruments have been undermined and inadequately enforced in practice, and economic land concessions (ELCs) have been granted in indigenous forest areas without free, prior and informed consent or fair compensation to the indigenous communities.
Directive 01 was issued in 2012 by the Royal Government of Cambodia, calling for increased monitoring of ELCs and reinforced that land inhabited by farmers must be cut out of the concession areas. But shortcomings of Directive 01 have become apparent – in many areas, indigenous people were asked to decide between private and communal registration, undermining community strength in the face of development threats. NGOs have worked with indigenous communities and government to ensure this Directive is properly enforced and works to help indigenous people.
So far only 8 indigenous communities have received titles, and more than one hundred titles are outstanding.
To support their continued secure existence, NGO Forum puts forward the following recommendations to the Royal Government of Cambodia, especially in regard to land access.
Existing laws, decrees and directives which acknowledge the land rights of indigenous people must be enforced properly and accountably. Ensure that Directive O1 is implemented to support the poor and vulnerable of Cambodia and that it is not undermining indigenous peoples communal land registration
- The rate of communal land registration must speed up. Increase the target areas for communal land titling to all areas where communities are already registered as legal entities by the Ministry of Interio
- Speed up the process of community forestry and protected area recognition
- An information campaign needs to be undertaken with indigenous communities so they understand the implications of titling, and how to protect their land against unauthorized development.
- A mechanism should be introduced which will allow those indigenous people who believed they had to register their titles individually to convert these to communal land titles
- The Royal Government of Cambodia should provide more space to dialogue with NGOs /CSOs to improve legal and economic measures to protect indigenous peoples
- Ensure that the principles of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) are fully integrated and enforced in any legal and policy enforcement.
- End forced evictions, and ensure communities are fairly treated in regard to compensation and relocation sites when movement occurs; ensure due process, proper dialogue, appropriate information and fair negotiation regarding relocation of communities