More than 100 ethnic minority activists trying to protect community forests have been arrested, jailed, threatened and subjected to violence so far this year, a major local rights group has said.
In a statement released yesterday, Adhoc condemned the “discriminatory” treatment of indigenous people who have been trying to stop forest crimes across the country.
“The local authorities never investigate and find justice for them.… It seems like a systematic arrangement to destroy the rights of ethnic minority groups,” the statement says.
According to Adhoc, among those targeted this year were 74 minority people from Mondulkiri province, 15 from Preah Vihear province and 21 from Ratanakkiri province.
At a news conference yesterday, Ma’al Rongom, a Phnong woman from Mondulkiri, said her own anti-deforestation efforts had been met with threats from officials.
“We people have [been trying] to preserve the forest, but commune chiefs and provincial governors have threatened to jail us. [It makes me] wonder why the government formed forest and land laws,” she said. “We are willing to die to protect the forest for the next generation,” she added.
Ar Ngo, a Phnong villager from Mondulkiri’s Lao Ka village, said she and other ethnic minority villagers depend on forests for their survival.
“We are indigenous and not different from wild animals. They would die if the forest disappeared and we are the same,” she said. “The government does not need to give us rice, just allocate forest for us and we know how to feed our family,” she added.
Ny Chakrya, chief investigator at Adhoc, said that across the country, “local government officers have not fulfilled their duty to ensure the safety of people who are actively trying to preserve natural resources and to prevent forest crimes”.
“Instead, they receive threats and imprisonment [at the hands of] some government officers who may get benefits from illegal logging,” he said.
Kep Kot, director of the forestry administration department in Mondulkiri, and Chheng Kimsun, director general of the Forestry Administration, could not be reached yesterday.