Indigenous communities in Cambodia marked the 29th World Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Day – the 19th in Cambodia – with celebrations across the country. Their aim was to promote cultural identity preservation and growth, while urging the new government to expedite the collective land registration process for their communities.

The events, held on August 9, shared the theme “Indigenous Youth as Agents of Change for Self-determination”. Activities took place in Phnom Penh, several remote communities, and at the Ministry of Rural Development offices in Siem Reap.

Phluk Phirom, an indigenous organiser, noted improved freedom in this year’s celebrations compared to previous occasions, with the authorities supporting the event without obstruction.

Their focus remained on enhancing cultural identity, eradicating discrimination against indigenous people, and fostering stronger collaboration between them and local authorities.

“I request that incoming Prime Minister Hun Manet expedite the registration of collective land so that indigenous people have land in accordance with the law,” he told The Post.

“This is my appeal. I ask him to maintain support for us during such initiatives, and prevent any hindrance from the authorities,” he added.

To mark the occasion, the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) released an updated report on collective land title rights for the Kingdom’s indigenous communities.

The report highlighted that, from 2011 to June 2023, the Cambodian government had registered collective land for 40 indigenous communities. Despite intentions to expedite land registration for indigenous peoples, only 21 new registrations have occurred since 2017.

“One of the primary concerns of indigenous communities is the exclusion of their representation in the proposed amendments to the Law on Protected Areas and the Law on Forestry, aimed at substituting the term ‘local community,’” said the CCHR.

The centre advocates for the government to uphold its commitment to accelerating the registration of collective land for indigenous communities and to address any obstacles which impede these communities from registering their communal land.

According to the CCHR report, the 12-year span from 2011 to June 2023 saw 40 indigenous communities – 3,893 families, accounting for 8.73 per cent of the total 458 indigenous communities nationwide – being granted collective land titles.

They said that provinces with collective land registration include Ratanakkiri, with 27 communities spanning more than 27,000ha, Mondulkiri, with 7 communities covering more than 6,000ha, Kratie, with 4 communities encompassing more than 700ha, and Stung Sreng, with two communities registering an area of nearly 2,000ha.

Neth Pheaktra, spokesperson for the Ministry of Environment, could not be reached for comment on August 9.