After nearly six years of fighting bureaucratic red tape, three indigenous communities on Wednesday became the first to receive communal land titles, more than a decade after the passage of laws making such ownership possible.
Three indigenous villages, comprising 329 families, in Ratanakkiri and Mondulkiri province are the first communities in the Kingdom to receive communal land title under the much-applauded, but poorly implemented, 2001 Land Law.
“Indigenous representatives attended a ceremony chaired by the minister of land management in Ratanakkiri on Wednesday,” the ILO’s Sek Sophorn said.
“They are so happy the title grant will enable them to maintain their land and culture.”
Pen Bunna, provincial co-ordinator of rights group Adhoc, said the land title amounted to about 1,426 hectares in Le En village, Teun commune, Koun Mom district, and about 920 hectares in La L’eun Kraen village, in Ou Chum commune.
“In fact, we had requested the land title from the government a long time ago, but they were late to reply,” he said.
“Villagers want to get the communal land title to protect their land from the companies that get the land concession.”
The indigenous Kreung and Tumpoun peoples in Ratanakkiri occupied villages close to the provincial town centre there, which put their land at risk of being taken for rubber plantations or business speculation, Sek Sophorn said.
The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights applauded the landmark grant of title. “The approval of communal land titles is a landmark achievement and manifests the government’s respect for the rights of indigenous peoples and the recognition of the latter’s important contribution to national development,” the Phnom Penh OHCHR office said in a statement yesterday.
However, there was still a long way to go for the government to facilitate indigenous communities in being granted communal land title, Sek Sophorn told the Post yesterday.
“There is a lot to be done for indigenous communities to be registered, and of course language is a key challenge,” he said. “Because it takes so much time just for registration, the government could facilitate the process if it accelerated the grant of land title subsequently.”
Adhoc’s Pen Bunna added that although the land title was very good for villagers, “if the government issued land titles faster, the types of ethnic minority land disputes we have seen in previous years could have been avoided.”