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
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
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
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
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
"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.