Defending indigenous rights

Villagers from Cambodia’s various indigenous ethnic communities attend an NGO-sponsored forum in Phnom Penh last year.
Villagers from Cambodia’s various indigenous ethnic communities attend an NGO-sponsored forum in Phnom Penh last year. HENG CHIVOAN

Defending indigenous rights

Every August 9, the world celebrates the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. We join them in celebrating their rich cultural heritage, and use this day to pay tribute to the enormous contribution that indigenous traditions and knowledge have made to the world’s cultural heritage.

The celebration reminds us not to forget the fact that some 300 million people worldwide, living in more than 70 countries, define themselves as indigenous people and are often living in areas considered critical to the conservation of the earth’s biodiversity.

Today, I would like to reaffirm the European Union’s support to indigenous peoples and the promotion of their rights and capacities so that they can control their own social, economic and cultural development and be empowered to manage the natural resources which many of them rely on for their livelihoods.

The European Union is a strong supporter of the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In line with the Declaration, the European Union is highly committed to promoting the rights of indigenous peoples both within its borders and worldwide, including in Cambodia.

Following the elections on July 28, the European Union would like to encourage the future government to further ensure that the rights of indigenous peoples in Cambodia are protected and their identities are recognised.

Today there are 24 groups of indigenous peoples living in 15 provinces of the Kingdom of Cambodia, many of whom live in areas that are threatened by developments such as unsustainable agro-business development, rapid deforestation and climate change.

Today should be an opportunity for all Cambodians to reflect on the realities of the daily lives of indigenous people.

The European Union, as one of the main partners of Cambodia, reiterates its support for efforts to effectively implement land reform in a manner which both protects the rights of citizens and ensures green and inclusive economic growth as defined in Cambodia’s National Development Strategy.

Through its Delegation in Cambodia, the EU is currently supporting six projects, worth more than €3.4 million (about US$4.3 million), to directly support Cambodia’s indigenous peoples in claiming their rights to education and healthcare, to the preservation of their cultural and traditional identities and to securing titles to their ancestral lands through mechanisms such as communal land titles.

Thanks to the efforts made by indigenous peoples, local authorities, civil society and development partner funding and technical support, eight communal land titles were issued by the Ministry of Land Management, Urbanisation and Construction since late 2011.

This is a positive step and efforts must be maintained to swiftly increase the number of these titles.

On the world stage, the European Union pays tribute to human rights defenders in the world who champion the rights of indigenous peoples and who in many countries are exposed to risks and acute repression, as documented in numerous international reports, including those by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders.

To recall a statement made by High Representative Catherine Ashton, on behalf of the European Union on the occasion of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, “the EU seeks to integrate human rights, including those of indigenous peoples, into all aspects of its external policies, including its political dialogues with third countries and regional organisations, and at multilateral forum such as the United Nations.

“The EU also provides financial support to indigenous peoples’ delegates at UN bodies, through the Technical Secretariat to the activities of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in promoting the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention No 169.”

In Cambodia, the European Union will continue to support all actors striving to further promote and protect the rights of indigenous peoples, one of the wonders of this Royal Kingdom.

HE Jean-François Cautain is the ambassador of the European Union to the Kingdom of Cambodia.

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