The deforestation of community-held land and the slow registration process for indigenous people’s collectively-held lands remain challenges for indigenous communities who rely on natural resources for their livelihoods, according to a joint statement of the Cambodia Indigenous Peoples Organisation.
To mark the 17th World Indigenous Peoples’ Day observed in Cambodia on August 9 under the theme of “World Administration”, the association said indigenous peoples should not be abandoned or have their social protection demands ignored.
The statement added that community members are registering community land as collective land, but some of them then ask to leave the collective, mostly for economic reasons related to land sales and that the long registration process for collective lands remained a challenge.
“Apart from this, indigenous communities in Cambodia also lack cooperation between communities, partner organisations and authorities in implementing procedures, including resolving issues that arise in the community to be effective, particularly community land issues,” the group’s statement said.
It also said there are many different kinds of encroachment upon community forest land being committed by outsiders and sometimes even from within the community itself.
Kreung Tola, a forest protection activist in Mondulkiri province, acknowledged that the current problems for indigenous communities in Cambodia are conflicts over land and low levels of education among their community members.
Tem Pharath, representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Cambodia, said that in this regard the OHCHR has promised to coordinate with all of the stakeholders and especially with the Cambodian government to issue collective land titles to these indigenous communities as soon as possible in order to discourage encroachment.
Ek Buntha, deputy director-general of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said he has always urged the authorities – and especially officials of culture departments across the country – to research and compile documentation to help protect and preserve these lands as cultural heritage sites along with their registration as indigenous collective lands.
“Currently, the ministry is doing this work in the north-eastern province. Some ministries and institutions have returned the collective land to the indigenous communities on the basis of their importance to the community’s religious worship practices, which is a positive sign” he said.
He said the ministry will also set up a centre for permanent exhibitions of indigenous peoples’ cultural artefacts to encourage further research and understanding of indigenous traditions and customs in Cambodia.
According to the 2013 census, there are 183,831 indigenous people in Cambodia – equivalent to 1.25 per cent of the total Cambodian population split between around 24 groups living in 15 provinces.
Cambodia’s indigenous peoples have close spiritual ties to the land and a strong belief that natural landscape features such as forests, mountains, rivers, lakes and waterfalls are sacred places.