A senior Ministry of Environment official has hit back at some local and international NGOs for their reports on deforestation, which they claim has affected the rights of indigenous people.
Last week, a report by Amnesty International (AI) entitled Cambodia: Illegal logging harming Indigenous peoples’ rights and cultures – new research was released.
In the report, AI said the Kuy indigenous community in Prey Lang and Prey Preah Roka santuaries had been affected. It suggested that the illegal logging of protected forests is undermining human rights and erasing the traditions of indigenous peoples in Cambodia.
The NGO noted that Cambodia had lost nearly 2.5 million hectares of forest cover between 2001 and 2020.
“Illegal logging in Cambodia poses an existential threat to the country’s remaining primary forests. In addition to the well-documented threats which this poses to biodiversity and climate, it also entails severe consequences for indigenous peoples’ cultures and human rights,” it said.
AI’s head of crisis and environment Richard Pearshouse alleged in the report that “government officials who were supposed to be protecting these precious forests are instead profiting from their destruction by allowing the illegal logging trade to flourish”.
Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra said that what was in those reports were baseless allegations fabricated by unprofessional and politicised NGOs such as AI and its allies who were prejudiced against Cambodia. It had traditionally lied in its reporting, he said.
He said Cambodia, through the ministry, has made strong commitments to protect indigenous people’s rights by sharing the responsibility of natural conservation thought the establishment of the Protected Areas Communities, which were recognised by Cambodian Law.
He said that among 182 protected areas, 52 are indigenous people’s communities, including eight of the Kuy people. Those communities have full rights to patrol and get full cooperation from the ministry’s forest rangers and authorities.
According to Pheaktra, those communities have received a lot of benefits and support from the ministry to improve their livelihoods through local economic development.
“What Amnesty International alleged in their report does not reflect reality. The baseless accusations by Amnesty International are politically motivated and are manipulated to defend some crooks that pretend to care for the environment and the indigenous communities,” he said.
Around 46.86 per cent of Cambodia is covered by 8.5 million hectares of natural forest. The environment ministry is responsible for 7.3 million hectares of this forest, or 41 per cent of the Kingdom’s total land.
He emphasised that large-scale deforestation in protected areas are no longer occurring, although small-scale illegal logging persists. The authorities, he said, will continue to enforce the laws.
“Forests are better protected than ever. Cambodia has been successful in selling carbon credits in the international voluntary market using the motto ‘Keep the wood standing to sell carbon credits’. Wildlife is better protected and the living conditions of the people in the protected area communities are starting to improve, linked to eco-tourism and new career options,” he said.
Cambodia is committed to the implementation of the National Forest Monitoring System and Social and Environmental Safeguards Information System for REDD+ implementation, and to its target of halving the deforestation rate by 2030, in line with Cambodia’s REDD+ strategy, he added.