Cambodia: Investigate Without Delay the Harassment of an Indigenous Activist of Areng Valley and Restore the Foundations of Democratic Governance

Statement of Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact and Cambodia Indigenous Peoples Alliance

Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) stands with Cambodia Indigenous Peoples Alliance (CIPA) and human rights groups in Cambodia in calling for the immediate investigation to the alleged shooting of the indigenous activist, Ven Et, on 12 May 2018.

On 4 April 2018, Ven Et submitted a petition to the Ministry of Rural Development, UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) – Cambodia and the cabinet of the Prime Minister to request for support for the self-identification of Chong indigenous peoples, an initial step for applying community land title (CLT) in Cambodia.  The CLT is an important process for indigenous communities to increase their leverage for the recognition of their land rights.

Two weeks after his submission, however, Ven Et received death threat from Chumnaop first commune council, Til Chan, a member of the government’s Cambodian People Party (CPP).  He immediately filed a report to Chumnaop commune police but did not get any response.  Fearing for his and his family’s security, they left their home to temporarily seek refuge.  He had been in hiding for twelve days when he returned to his home on 12 May.

Ven Et is a younger brother of Ven Vorn, an indigenous environmental activist who was arrested in 2015 after being found guilty of “forest crimes” by the Koh Kong Provincial Court.[1]  Ven Et cannot think of any other motive of this harassment except his rejection to join the ruling CPP and his work as an indigenous environmental activist of Areng Valley advocating against deforestation and the construction of a hydropower dam.  As a member of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which was dissolved by the ruling CPP in November 2017,[2]  he is being pressured to be part of the CPP.

The incident on 12 May escalated his fear for his life and security. He admits, “I feel scared and worried about my personal security. I think this time they missed me but they might not the next time.  This attack is not good.  I urge armed forces and police to take action in the case.”

He returned home to follow-up his police report to Til Chan at Thmar Bang district police station.   Both parties agreed to end the case but the incident made him think twice about how Til Chan’s party intend to end it.

Areng Valley sits between Central and Southern Cardamom National Parks, which are under the authority of the Ministry of Environment that controls armed rangers patrolling the vicinity.[3]  The area is also heavily guarded by the police and the military.

AIPP and CIPA call on the government of Cambodia to immediately investigate Ven Et’s case and ensure the safety and security of Ven Et.  We urge the Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defence to cooperate in the investigation and work in ensuring that people responsible for the incident are held accountable.  Further, the government of Cambodia should support the intention of the Chong community to work with the government in protecting their lands through the legal process that is CLT.  It should also stop criminalizing the peaceful means of activism of the indigenous environmental defenders of Areng Valley and end the dissolution of democratic governance.

Further, we strongly urge the UNOHCHR – Cambodia to call on the government of Cambodia to immediately act on Ven Et’s case, assist the community’s efforts to apply for CLT and stand by the people of Cambodia and the international community to draw the attention of the Prime Minister of Cambodia to restore Cambodia’s foundations of democracy.

Gam Awungshi Shimray
Secretary General
Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)

Yun Lorang
Secretariat Coordinator
Cambodia Indigenous Peoples Alliance (CIPA)

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[1] https://iphrdefenders.net/cambodia-areng-activist-guilty-forest-crimes-released-suspended-sentence/

[2] https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national-post-depth-politics/death-democracy-cnrp-dissolved-supreme-court-ruling

[3] https://www.rainforesttrust.org/news/new-wildlife-sanctuary-declared-cambodia/ ; see also: https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/conservationists-warn-government-encroachment

Click here to download full statement.

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