Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Wednesday that Cambodia will send a report to the UN to highlight the Kingdom’s achievements in fulfilling its obligations regarding the protection of indigenous people’s rights.
“We owe [the UN] a report on the exercising of the rights of indigenous people because, in reality, we are the country that has done best in regards to this compared with others in the region. Is there an ethnic conflict like with the Montagnards [in Vietnam]? No, there is not.
“So I will issue a circular to instruct all the government institutions involved to write a complete human rights report. Then the officials who need to will defend the report in Geneva.
“I will approve the expenses for their travel using the Council of Ministers’ budget,” Hun Sen said at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh on Wednesday.
He said Cambodia had fulfilled its obligations on the implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) to a greater extent than it had reported.
Indigenous people, he said, had full rights and the freedom to get jobs and receive an education, and they could choose the subjects they wished to study.
Cambodian Human Rights Committee (CHRC) spokesperson Kata Orn said an ICERD report had been submitted by the Khmer Rouge during its rule. The last report was sent in 1983.
However, he said the Kingdom had submitted a general report on human rights three months ago. It was defended by an inter-ministerial delegation late last month.
He said ICERD covers only the rights of indigenous people, not minority groups who had illegally immigrated into Cambodia. He said indigenous people in Cambodia included the Kuoy, Bunong, Sam Rae and Cham, among others.
“We pay great attention to them following the principles of non-discrimination. No matter whether in the public or private sector, in education, health and development, we are all equal because we are all Cambodians,” Orn said.
He said the government had been resolving the issues encountered by indigenous people, such as registering community land titles so they could live on their land without facing obstruction or eviction.
“In Cambodia, there are no ethnic conflicts. We live in harmony with each other. We live with unity, understanding and cooperation. What indigenous people still face are land disputes.
“We are doing our utmost to resolve this, such as through finding compromises between companies, indigenous people and the government. We will continue to register their community land. When this is done, there will be no more land disputes from them,” Orn said.
Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) director Chak Sopheap said the Kingdom was a State Party to the ICERD, while equal rights to ethnic minorities were also guaranteed under Article 31 of the Cambodian Constitution.
She said the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) had given its concluding observations on Cambodia this month. The report raised concerns about the situation regarding ethnic Vietnamese, the Khmer Krom and indigenous peoples, she said.
She said the CERD was concerned about reported hate speech, including online and by political leaders.
Khmer Krom individuals continued to be denied legal documents in practice, putting them at risk of statelessness and increasing barriers to accessing land, employment, education, health and other basic services.
She said the government had not done enough to remedy the inequalities experienced by ethnic minorities.
“The CERD Committee’s concluding observations highlighted the need for the state to take further action to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of these individuals,” she said.
However, Orn said ICERD did not cover foreign nationals living in Cambodia illegally, while the government resolved illegal immigration according to legal procedure.