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Draft forest law lambasted by NGO Forum

T

HE NGO Forum has warned the National Committee on Forest Policy Reform that the

draft forestry law contravenes international covenants on human rights, is contrary

to Government policy and usurps the traditional roles of local government.

These concerns were outlined in a June 14 letter from the NGO Forum to Ty Sokhun,

Chairman of the Committee and Secretary General of the Department of Forestry and

Wildlife (DFW).

In a copy of the letter obtained by the Post, the Forum said the May 30, 2000, draft

forestry law transfers all authority for all forests to the DFW, under the Ministry

of Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries (MAFF).

"It does not recognize the mandates of other institutions in forest management,

nor deal with these institutions' policies, legislation and roles," the letter

says. "The draft law should recognize and clarify the roles and responsibilities

of institutions with existing mandates, and should enable and require consultation

and coordination among them."

In the draft law the role of the Ministry of Environment (MoE) in Cambodian forest

management is not taken into account - contradicting existing legislation.

Under the law of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources Management, the MoE

is responsible for environmental impact assessments, monitoring and reporting on

forest crimes, and the management of protected areas, says the Forum.

Nor does the draft law take into account MAFF's Department of Fisheries management

of flooded areas and mangrove forests.

The Forum said the draft law does not recognize or define the role of provincial

and local government in forest management.

"The highly centralized institutional structure proposed in the draft law appears

contrary to the Royal Govern-ment's commitment to decentralization, and will not

be conducive to decision-making at the appropriate level."

The Forum warns that highly centralized forest management as proposed in the draft

law will sacrifice the needs of villagers who depend on the forests for their livelihoods.

"In its present draft form, the law is contrary to international covenants on

human rights and indigenous rights, to which Cambodia is a signatory," says

the letter.

Under the draft law the DFW is the single authority for defining the scope for community

forestry. This, says the Forum, is contrary to existing law and policy, as well as

draft Guidelines for Community Forestry in Cambodia developed by NGOs and people

involved with community forestry in Cambodia.

The Forum is also concerned that the wording of the draft law is ambiguous. "Defining

the scope of the law after the law itself has been passed presents acute rule-of-law

problems. These issues should not be left to subdecree and administrative decision

(Prakas)."

The Forum warns that ownership rights are also ambiguous under the draft law. Article

Two of the law assigns all ownership rights to the state, but it is unclear how this

affects current forest use and ownership.

It is also unclear whether the draft law affects current logging concessions or extinguishes

all rights of customary forest users.

"These ambiguities of ownership, leasing or use rights risk allowing the Royal

Government to assert its plenary control and undercut the rights of people in forest

exploitation," says the Forum.

The DFW's Director General, Ty Sokhun, told the Post he received some comment from

NGOs. "Some are good and we can accept, some we cannot accept." Sokhun

said poor translation of the draft law from Khmer to English means the NGOs do not

have an accurate understanding of parts of the law.He said he expects changes will

be made to the draft law after it is reviewed at the July 6-7 workshop.

In a letter to the Minister of MAFF dated June 13, the Minister of Environment,

Dr Mok Mareth, defended MoE's management record for parks and protected areas. Mareth

demanded that the role of the MoE be recognized in the draft law, noting that MoE's

management responsibilities for these areas was mandated by a 1993 royal decree.

In the same letter, Mareth criticized DFW's management of concession forests saying

the Department has allowed businessmen "free rein" to destroy forest land

for profit.

Orhan Baykal (of Fraser Thomas consultants) is the leader of a technical advisory

team hired by the Asian Development Bank and the Government of Cambodia to assist

in drafting the new forest law.

Baykal said the advisory team's lawyers prepared the first draft of the law after

extensive discussions with the Government to develop a framework for forest policy.

The draft law was further developed by the DFW with advisory team lawyers providing

technical assistance.

"From this point on, it was not our law anymore," said Baykal.

The DFW took about two months to finish the review before their version of the draft

was sent to MAFF. He said a MAFF panel then reviewed and rewrote the law, producing

the final draft that will be publicly unveiled on July 6.

Baykal said when his team was presented with the final draft they, along with the

ADB and World Bank, sent letters to the Government pointing out where the final draft

differed from the original.

Baykal stressed that his team's role was only to advise and that the final draft

is the work of the Government.

On July 6 and 7 a workshop for relevant ministries, NGOs, and provincial departments

will be held at the Royal University of Agriculture in Phnom Penh to discuss the

draft forest law and make recommendations on how it can be improved.

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