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Land rights elusive for indigenous minorities

Ethnic Koy villagers attend a meeting about land rights in Preah Vihear province in 2014.
Ethnic Koy villagers attend a meeting about land rights in Preah Vihear province in 2014. Heng Chivoan

Land rights elusive for indigenous minorities

Bureaucratic inefficiency and “endemic” corruption are leading factors in land loss among Cambodia’s 190,000 indigenous peoples, who are under siege from land grabs by powerful elites and exploitative corporations, according to a report launched yesterday by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.

The European Union-funded report focuses on the difficulties indigenous groups face in acquiring collective land titles (CLTs), which CCHR characterised as the surest legal safeguard against losing land to economic land concessions (ELCs).

While CLTs held by indigenous groups are protected under Cambodian law, they have been “almost non-existent” in practice, said the report, due mostly to “a lengthy and extremely complex [registration] process” that can take several years. CCHR also attributed the dearth of CLTs to a “lack of awareness” of their very existence among indigenous groups and the local authorities who purportedly represent them.

“The authorities never support us; they dismiss our requests,” said one indigenous community representative quoted in the report.

Of the country’s 458 indigenous communities, only nine have been able to complete the “arduous” registration process, said Vann Sophath, a lead researcher behind the report.

Speaking at the launch yesterday, EU Ambassador George Edgars called on the government to “accelerate the CLT registration procedure”.

Seng Lo, a spokesman of the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, said that while they had received 43 CLT requests in 2015, the difficulty of processing them meant that the ministry was only able to certify 10.

Phin Sophey, 34, an indigenous person from Koh Kong province, where indigenous land remains under threat from a hydroelectric dam, said at yesterday’s event that despite its dire findings, she took some comfort in the report’s launch.

“Coming here at least reassures me that we are not alone. There are people who support us. We hope we can get a CLT very soon,” she said.

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