Report commissioned by:
Asian Indigenous Peoples Pact Foundation
6 Soi 14, Sookasem Road
Tambon Patan, Amphur Muang
Chiang Mai 50300, Thailand
• Population: 14.8 million (UN, 2005)
• Capital: Phnom Penh
• Area: 181,035 sq km (69,898 sq miles)
• Major language: Khmer
• Major religion: Buddhism
• Life expectancy: 52 years (men), 60 years (women) (UN)
• Monetary unit: 1 riel = 100 sen
• Main exports: Clothing, timber, rubber
• GNI per capita: US $320 (World Bank, 2005
Indigenous Populations, Ethnic Minority Populations, and Ethnic Khmer Population in Ratanakiri Province
Per Centage of
National Ethnic Minority Groups
Per Centage of
National Ethnic Majority Group
Per Centage of
Source: Provincial Population Survey, Partnership for LocalGovernance–Ratanakiri,2003-2004.
Indigenous Groups in Cambodia1
Brao; Jarai; Kachok; Kleung; Kraol; Kravet; Kaning
Kreung; Kui; Lun; Mel; Phnong; Pear; Kola;
Cambodia is located in South East Asia bordering Thailand, Lao PDR and Viet Nam and with a land area of about 181,035 square kilometers. Estimates of Cambodia’s population range from 11 million to 14.8 million people. Approximately 90 per cent of the nation’s population is of Khmer ethnicity, complimented by Viet Namese, Cham, Lao, Chinese, and indigenous ethnic groups.2 The indigenous ethnic groups are estimated to constitute approximately one per cent of the overall population.
Cambodia has a constitutional monarchy that reigns but does not rule. The parliament consists of two houses, the National Assembly and the Senate.
Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranked3 by the UN among the bottom countries in terms of development with about 35 percent of the population living below the poverty line. Little infrastructure exists as a result of more than 30 years of warfare. Seventy per cent of the population is engaged in subsistence farming, with the natural floods and sediment deposits of the Mekong river system providing fertile, irrigated fields for rice production. The historical background of war and political instability in Cambodia, has been a major impediment to achieving economic recovery and development that respects human rights.
Cambodia, once the domain of powerful Khmer kings, was forced to become a French Protectorate in 1863 because of constant threats from its two larger neighbours, Thailand and Viet Nam. In 1953, Cambodia became independent from French rule under the leadership of King Norodom Sihanouk. He ruled until 1970, the latter years of his reign being marred by the occupation of the country’s northeastern and eastern provinces by Viet Nam’s Army, intensive aerial bombardment by the United States Air Force, and a steadily increasing civil war. In 1970, a coup installed General Lon Nol as the country’s president. The civil war continued to intensify, with the communist Khmer Rouge consolidating itself and finally taking over the capital Phnom Penh in 1975. Between 1965, when the US Air Force mass aerial bombardments began, to 1979, when the Khmer Rouge’s nearly four year reign of brutal totalitarianism came to an end, more than one quarter of Cambodia’s population had been killed or died of starvation.4 During the period known in Cambodia as “Pol Pot Time” (1975-1979), massive changes seeking to establish a communist agrarian utopia saw the abolition of any semblance of civil society including the monetary system, education, health care, and property ownership.
3 In 2004, the Human Development Index ranked Cambodia 130 out of 173 nations.
4 Exact estimates are unavailable though the numbers of people who died during this period has been estimated to be anywhere between one to two million.
The reign of terror of the Khmer Rouge came to an end in 1979 when Viet Nam invaded Cambodia. The government of the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) supported by Viet Nam was installed but it was not recognized by the United Nations.5 In 1985, Hun Sen (the current Prime Minister) came to power. However civil war continued throughout the 1980s as different political groups vied for power. But in the late 1980’s negotiations began which culminated in the signing of the Paris Peace Accord in 1991, in which all the Cambodian parties agreed to disarm and participate in UN-supervised elections.
The establishment of the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) in 1992 created some space for the re-emergence and reconstruction of civil society. The first election held in 1993 saw the creation of a coalition government between the FUNCINPEC party led by Prince Norodom Ranariddh, and the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) led by Hun Sen. However in June 1997, after continued dissatisfaction over power sharing, hostilities broke out between the ruling parties and Hun Sen emerged as the winner and took control of the country. The next election held in 1998 saw the inability of the CPP to form its own government leading to the formation of another coalition government between the CPP and the FUNCINPEC. 1998 also saw the death of Pol Pot, the architect behind the Khmer Rouge atrocities. The latest general election in July 2003 saw a stalemate for 11 months over the formation of government until another coalition government was finally formed.
According to the Human Rights Watch (HRW) Report of 2004, “Cambodia is plagued by a weak and politicised judiciary, political violence, intimidation of opposition party members and journalists, and widespread impunity for human rights offenders.” This trend continued, with the HRW again saying in its 2005 Report that “Authorities continue to ban or disperse most public demonstrations. Politicians and journalists critical of the government face violence and intimidation and are barred from equal access to the broadcast media. In addition, the judiciary remains weak and subject to political influence. Trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation through networks protected or backed by police or government officials is rampant. The government continues to turn a blind eye to fraudulent confiscation of farmers’ land, illegal logging, and widespread plundering of natural resources.”
Against this backdrop, the rights of indigenous peoples in Cambodia is also in a dismal condition. Cambodian law still explicitly denies many rights to the ten per cent of the population that is not of the majority Khmer ethnic group.6
5 A notable feature of the PRK with regard to indigenous peoples is that the government structure in 1981 included four Khmer Leu province chiefs, all reportedly from the Brao group, in the northeastern provinces of Mondolkiri, Ratanakiri, Stung Treng, and Preah Vihear. According to a resolution of the PRK National Cadres Conference of 1984 entitled “Policy Toward Ethnic Minorities,” the minorities were considered an integral part of the Cambodian nation, and they were to be encouraged to participate in collectivisation. Government policy aimed to transform minority groups into modern Cambodians. The same resolution called for the elimination of illiteracy, with the stipulations that minority languages be respected and that each ethnic minority be allowed to write, speak, and teach in its own language
6 Craig Etcheson, Introduction to Human Rights in Cambodia, undated.
Indigenous Peoples and Their Status in Cambodia
Indigenous peoples in Cambodia are variously referred to as ethnic minorities, hill tribes, highlanders, highland people,7 indigenous ethnic minority, and Khmer Leu;8 they often call themselves by the Khmer word ‘choncheat’. The national census of 1998 identified 101,000 indigenous people in Cambodia, of a total population of 11.4 million people, accounting for 0.9 per cent of the population. Most independent researchers and indigenous affairs analysts in Cambodia contend that the methods used by the census produced a significant under-counting of indigenous people in the country and suggest that an estimate of 190,000 (1.4%) would be more accurate. A very large majority of the indigenous population in Cambodia live in the four northeastern provinces of Ratanakiri, Mondolkiri, Stung Treng, and Kratie. In the first two of these provinces, indigenous people constitute the majority while in the latter two there is a substantial minority of the total provincial populations.9 Indigenous peoples also live in the provinces of Preah Vihear, Pursat, Kampong Thom, Koh Kong and Kompong Som.10 There are 15 major indigenous groups, including Tampuan, Kui, Jarai, Kreung, Brao, Stieng, Pear, Rhade and Phnong.
The territories of some groups go beyond the Cambodian border. The Jarai in Ratanakiri, and the Phnong in Mondulkiri and Kratie, may be found respectively in the provinces of Pleiku and Dalat in Viet Nam; the Kui, present in Preah Vihear and in Kampong Thom, are also found in Thailand and in Lao PDR; and the Brao and Kravet in Ratanakiri are related to those in southern Lao PDR.
According to the ADB Integrated Report on the Greater Mekong Sub-Region, the indigenous ethnic minorities concentrated in the northeastern provinces of Cambodia “represent perhaps the most disadvantaged population group in the country. Due primarily to the region’s geographic isolation, these marginalised populations have not been integrated into mainstream society and face numerous problems.”11 It goes on to add that access to education in these provinces is challenged by a number of factors and there is a very poor health care system with numerous health problems persisting, including HIV/AIDS.
The indigenous peoples of the highland area can be distinguished from their lowland neighbors not only by their long-standing inhabitation of the remote upland forest areas but also by their distinctive religion, which is associated with their environment, and by their use of swidden (rotational farming) agriculture techniques based around their long-inhabited communities (White, 1996).12
7 Terms such as hill tribes, highlanders, highland people seem to have been derived referring to the terrain, mostly mountainous upland areas, which these peoples inhabit.
8 “Khmer Leu” or “Highland Khmer” was coined by the Cambodian government in the 1960s in order to create a feeling of unity between the highland tribal groups and the ruling lowland ethnic Khmer. However, traditionally the Khmer have referred to these groups as phnong and samre, both of which have pejorative meanings.
9 As of 1998, in Ratanakiri indigenous people constituted 66 per cent of the population; in Mondolkiri 71 per cent; in Stung Treng 6.6; and in Kratie 8.3 percent. (National Institute of Statistics [Cambodia]/Ministry of Planning, UNPF 1998.)
10 The groups in these provinces represent about 0.04 per cent of the total population
11 Asian Development Bank (2004), Integrated Report on the Greater Mekong Sub-Region.
Cambodia’s indigenous people live in widely-dispersed villages that frequently have only a few hundred inhabitants, governed by a council of local elders and/or by a village headman. They are involved in cultivation of a wide variety of plants. Rice as the staple food is planted extensively with some groups practicing wet rice cultivation while other groups grow upland rice planted on their rotationally cultivated swiddens. Their diet is supplemented by hunting, fishing, and gathering edible plants, seeds, fruits and vegetables from their nearby community-managed forests.
The aftermath of Cambodia’s independence in 1954 saw the implementation of government policies that sought to integrate these “Khmer Leu” into the mainstream Khmer culture. Khmer soldiers and their families were posted to these provinces with the responsibility of implementing the policy of integration known as ‘Khmerisation’. This assimilationist policy involved the expropriation of indigenous homelands and villagers were forced to work on plantations.13 Several indigenous communities and villages in the highlands were displaced and relocated to new places along rivers, with the aim of encouraging wet rice cultivation. The Khmer language was taught with the education model focused on transforming the “backward” social system of these groups. This policy of Khmerisation was met with considerable resistance and occasionally let to clashes, revolts, and armed confrontations.
During the Khmer Rouge regime, many indigenous communities were again relocated to work in the lowland rice fields. The Khmer Rouge also began to intensify assimilation programs carried out under previous regimes. Entire villages were resettled, indigenous communities were forbidden to speak their languages and forced to learn Khmer, and their traditional rituals, dress and hair styles were also forbidden. Some indigenous communities living near the borders fled to neighbouring countries. After the defeat of the Khmer Rouge, these relocated and displaced indigenous communities returned to their ancestral lands and re-established their traditional agricultural and livelihood systems.
The 1980s again saw resurgence in government policy to integrate the indigenous communities into the mainstream Khmer society through its policy of encouraging indigenous communities to reside along rivers and close to roads, partly to avoid the Khmer Rouge which was still active in remote places.
Around the same time, lowland Khmers were encouraged to migrate to and settle in less populated and remote areas such as Ratanakiri province. These Khmer migrants brought with them new practices of resource use which were directed towards commercial gain. Logging, commercial farming and mining began to be extensively practised in these areas. Large tracts of land under the traditional control of the indigenous communities were given away by the government as concessions to individuals and commercial companies for exploitation of resources leading to environmental degradation and the denial of access by indigenous communities to their resources. The trend continues with more and more cases of conflicts over land coming to the fore.
12 White, Joanna (1996), “The Indigenous Highlanders of the Northeast: An Uncertain Future”, Final Draft Reports, Center for Advanced Study, Interdisciplinary Research on Ethnic Groups in Cambodia. (Center for Advanced Study, Phnom Penh).
13 Sugiarti, Sri (1997), A Preliminary Socio-Economic Study of Rotanak Kiri Province of Northeast Cambodia (IDRC/ CARERE, Phnom Penh), p.20.
Legal and policy framework
Cambodia’s constitution (1993) recognizes and respects human rights guaranteed by international laws. Article 31 of the Constitution provides that “the kingdom of Cambodia shall recognize and respect human rights as stipulated in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Covenants, and Conventions related to human rights, women’s and children’s rights.”
Cambodia is party to the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) 1966, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) 1966, the Optional Protocol of the ICCPR, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) 1965, the International Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) 1979, and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) 1992. These international instruments contain a number of provisions which protect the rights of indigenous peoples.
The Cambodian Constitution guarantees the equal rights of all Khmer citizens. Article 5 of the Cambodian Constitution asserts that “Every Khmer citizen shall be equal before the law, enjoying the same rights, freedom and fulfilling the same obligations regardless of race, color, sex, language, religious belief, political tendency, birth origin, social status, wealth or other status.” In its political platform for the third legislature of the National Assembly, the Royal Government of Cambodia acknowledged the importance of having a multi-cultural Cambodian society.
However, the term used in the Constitution is ‘Khmer
citizens’ and seems to exclude other ethnic groups. This is somewhat confusing. The Khmer language distinguishes between ‘sanh chiet’ – the term used in the Constitution, meaning ‘nationality’ – and ‘chun chiet’, meaning ‘ethnicity’.
Given the numerous international conventions to which the Royal Government of Cambodia is party, it is clear that the spirit of the Constitution of 1993 includes the country’s indigenous groups as ‘Khmer citizens’, or more accurately, as ‘Cambodian citizens’.
The Cambodian Constitution does not include specific reference to the country’s indigenous people and their rights as indigenous people. As noted above, the constitution clearly delineates the rights and freedoms of all “citizens”, but there is some difference of opinion as to whether the term “Khmer citizens” includes or excludes non-ethnic Khmer people as “Cambodian citizens”. Thus, the absence of specific constitutional articles or national law explicitly including non-ethnic Khmer people as “Cambodian citizens” with all the rights of citizenship, including the rights to language, spiritual beliefs, and culturally-specific forms of social organization and natural resource management, is a significant loop-hole that is being exploited to the detriment of indigenous people in Cambodia.
14 NGO Forum on Cambodia, (April 2006) Report Indigenous peoples in Cambodia, p. 2.
Representatives of indigenous communities in the northeastern provinces of Stung Treng and Ratanakiri (together, home to a majority of Cambodia’s indigenous population) cite as the two major threats to their communities and societies the expropriation of their homelands by non-indigenous people and state agencies and the gradual but steadily increasing activities of evangelical Christian missionaries. While the social, cultural, economic and environmental impacts of evangelical Christian missionaries on indigenous communities is unfortunately beyond the scope of this report, the processes and impacts of land expropriation on indigenous communities comprises a large portion of this report and its appendices.
While much national law and policy is (perhaps unintentionally) biased against Cambodia’s indigenous communities, there are significant and important exceptions; the Land Law of 2001 and the draft policy on education that recognizes the distinctive educational needs of indigenous people. The Land Law provides explicit recognition of the rights of indigenous communities to engage in their land and natural resource management systems, and includes the objective of eventually providing these communities with a form of collective land title that accords with their distinctive systems of local governance and traditional authority. The potential of the Land Law, and the appalling failure of state agencies to implement and uphold this law, is discussed in detail below.
The draft law on education recognizes the distinctive educational needs of indigenous communities and the right to formal education in their indigenous language, but nearly two years after its completion, the draft law continues to await approval by the National Assembly. Meanwhile, Cambodia’s Ministry of Education has been a leading agency in the development of a bilingual indigenous language/Khmer language curriculum in the
country’s formal education system, and CARE International in Cambodia and the Ministry of Education (with the support of UNICEF) are continuing to work together to develop, improve and expand the access of indigenous children to the program in the five provinces of Preah Vihear, Kratie, Stung Treng, Modulkiri and Ratanakiri. However, as the draft law on education has not yet been approved as a national law, the future of the efforts and achievements of the Ministry of Education, UNICEF, and Care International in Cambodia in developing an educational program for indigenous communities is in serious doubt. Please see below for a brief discussion of the Ministry of Education’s indigenous language/Khmer language educational program.
Indigenous communities are confronted by other factors that threaten their homelands and cultures. In the province of Ratanakiri for example, of the three population Groups listed in Table 1 as residing in the province, only the National Ethnic Majority Group (ethnic Khmer) has expanded, in terms of total population and per centage of population, at a rate faster than the natural reproduction rate of population growth, due to migration into Ratanakiri from outside the province. The vast majority of this population increase has occurred since the early to mid-1990s.
While there are no official statistics indicating the present occupation and/or location of these ethnic Khmer in-migrants, it is the collective opinion of independent researchers and analysts that much of the settlement of these recent migrants have claimed and established farming plots on indigenous lands, particularly in the vicinity of the provincial town of Ban Lung and the district towns of the province. The example of Ban Lung is instructive; in the early 1980s, the town’s population was predominantly of indigenous people, particularly of the Tampuen ethnic group Now, the present-day market – and the office of the Land Conflict Resolutions and Titling Project,of the provincial Department of Land Management of the national Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction – are built on land that once belonged to a Tampuen community. Today, approximately 90 per cent of the population of Ban Lung town is of Khmer
ethnicity, with a large proportion of this per centage having settled in the town within the past decade.16
16 Allistair Stephens and Graeme Brown, Indigenous Communities and Development in Ratanakiri, undated report (likely 2005).
As the numbers and proportion of the ethnic Khmer populating have increased, so too have the numbers and proportion of ethnic Khmer top-level provincial government officials in Ratanakiri. Since the re-establishment of a conventional state authority system during the State of Cambodia (1979 to 1992) and the extension of SoC and then Royal Government of Cambodia authority (1992 to the present) into the northeastern provinces that are home to predominantly indigenous groups, senior government positions in the provinces of Stung Treng, Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri have almost always been held by members of these indigenous groups. In Ratanakiri province for example, from the early 1980s to the late 1990s, the succession of provincial governors and deputy-governors taking these offices during that time were almost all members of Ratanakiri’s indigenous populations. In December 2006, the Governor and three of the deputy-governors are members of indigenous groups living in Ratanakiri province. However, in 2006, there are now a total
of eight deputy-governors in Ratanakiri, compared with three deputy-governorships in the 1980s and 1990s, and the recent increase in the number of positions of deputy-governor have been filled by ethnic Khmer people appointed by the central government in Phnom Penh. Thus, while the number of indigenous people holding the number of these top positions has remained somewhat constant, the per centage of indigenous people holding these positions has decreased by fifty per cent in the past five years, with the consequent loss of authority over issues of importance to indigenous communities as the responsibilities once held by members of indigenous communities have been diluted by the addition of deputy-governorship positions.
While the per centage and authority of top-level provincial government positions occupied by members of indigenous communities has decreased in recent years, many of the officials in office at the district, commune and village government levels are members of indigenous groups. The people of indigenous village communities view the officials at these levels of government as being the most directly relevant to their lives and livelihood security, as it is with the officials of these levels of government with whom they most frequently interact – often because, at the village and commune levels of government, these government officials are from their own or neighbouring communities and are, of course, able to speak the languages of these indigenous communities.
At all levels of government in the four northeastern provinces of Cambodia – provincial, district, commune, and village – there are officials who are members of indigenous communities whose homelands are located in these provinces. Many of these officials are honest, hard-working, and devoted to the interests of the people they represent in general, and in particular to the indigenous communities in which they, their extended families, neighbours and friends live. Unfortunately, many of these government officials are also highly susceptible to the temptations of money and influence offered to them, in return for their “services”, by members of the Cambodia’s national politically influential/wealthy elite, and are enriching themselves by abusing their positions and, indeed, the trust of indigenous people.
The summaries (below) of some of the case studies of the expropriation of the lands of indigenous communities, and the detailed case studies included in the appendices of this report, illustrate the roles of government officials at the village, commune and district levels, as well as those of the military and police authorities, in the expropriation of indigenous lands. While some of these government officials are not indigenous people, many of them are. The representation of indigenous people in positions of authority in Cambodia does not necessarily mean that the interests of indigenous communities are well served by these government officials. In fact, the presence of indigenous people in positions of state authority often makes it easier for these government officials – due to their ability to speak indigenous languages. Their positions of power as representatives of the state, and their intimate knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of indigenous cultures and social norms, place them in positions of being more able to take advantage of and exploit indigenous communities, compared to the ethnic Khmer government officials that are viewed much more suspiciously by these communities.
Referring to Ratanakiri province, a study noted, “The threats to the indigenous minorities in the area mainly affect land and forest management, health and education. They also come from the impact of large-scale development projects.”17 However the same could be said of all the other indigenous community areas in Cambodia.
The health system in Cambodia has been under reform from top to bottom in the past decade. However, access to health care and quality of services remains a major problem due to low socio-economic development levels, low literacy, and financial constraints on the health system.18
Within this overall situation, the situation for indigenous communities is found to be much poorer than for other Cambodian citizens.19 The loss of traditional land and natural resources was found to be one of the primary reasons for the precarious health condition of indigenous communities. The principal health problems relate closely to the natural and socio-economic environment.20 Yet another study on Ratanakiri reports that, “Increasing degradation of the Ratanakiri’s natural resources is impacting negatively on the already precarious health and nutritional status of local people.”21
Indigenous people have significantly poorer health than other Cambodians. The national level of infant mortality is 95 deaths per 1,000 live births (Ministry of Health 2002). In Ratanakiri, child mortality rates are the highest in Cambodia, with infant mortality rates of 187 in every 1,000 and under-five mortality rates 231 in every 1,000. Taken together, these figures mean that nearly one-quarter of the children born in Ratanakiri die before they reach the age of five, according to the National Institute of Statistics, Directorate General for Health (2001). While there are no official statistics specific to child mortality in the indigenous communities of Ratanakiri, indigenous women’s access to ‘modern’ health services, particularly emergency natal and post-natal care for women and infants, available at government health centres and the single referral hospital in the province is restricted by a number of factors, including the expense of these services, expense of travel to the centres and hospital, lack of access during the rainy season or due to long distance travel, poor quality of facilities and services, and facilities and services that are inappropriate and/or insensitive to indigenous culture. Therefore, indigenous populations account for a very large per centage of the maternal, infant and children under-five mortality rates in Ratanakiri.22
17 NGO Forum on Cambodia, (2005) Rethinking Poverty Reduction to Protect and Promote the Rights of Indigenous Minorities in Cambodia, p. 16.
18 ADB, (2004), Integrated Report on the Greater Mekong Sub-Region.
A study conducted in 2001 found the health of indigenous villagers to be even worse than indicated by the National Health Survey. See Dr. Fiona Hardy and HU Ratanakiri team,
Health Situation Analysis Ratanakari
, Cambodia, Health Unlimited,
20Op. cit., 18.
21 NGO Forum on Cambodia. (2005) Rethinking Poverty Reduction to Protect and Promote the Rights of Indigenous Minorities in Cambodia. p. 24.
The northeastern provinces have a high incidence of infectious-contagious diseases. The most common problems include malaria, diarrhea, acute respiratory infections, tuberculosis, and intestinal parasites. Malaria is the most common problem and the most common reason for hospital admissions in the northeastern provinces.23 Malaria, tuberculosis and gastro-intestinal diseases are endemic, and vaccine preventable diseases and acute respiratory infections continue to be major causes of morbidity and mortality.24
Malnutrition and anemia, both recorded to be very high among indigenous communities in Cambodia, is seen to be closely linked to land alienation and loss of control over forest resources which results in food shortage because of inability to farm and grow sufficient food, and denial of access to forest food such as jungle game, fishes, and edible and medicinal plants and herbs.
Lack of proper health information was also found to be quite high among indigenous communities. 76 per cent of indigenous women have never heard of HIV/AIDS, or knew the benefits of birth spacing.25 On this, language issues are also seen to be an impediment. Most health promotion materials in Cambodia are in Khmer requiring readers to be literate in Khmer, which most indigenous communities are not. Furthermore, the way information is presented is not well adapted to the illiteracy level of the targeted audience.
HIV/AIDS, which has become a matter of great concern worldwide, is much more alarming for Cambodia which has one of the highest infection rates in Asia. Although no data exists, there is great concern that indigenous communities constitute one group who face the highest risk of infection because of their lack of access to information and preventive measures.
Access to education, central to information dissemination, is seen as central to improving the health conditions of the indigenous communities. Health and education are often closely linked. Well-educated parents are more likely to provide better education and encourage good health practices with their children.26
22 E. Brown, C. Godden and N. Sopheak, “Uniting indigenous communities in Cambodia to claim the right to maternal healthcare,” in Gender and Development, Vol.14, No.2, July 2006.
23 ADB, (2004), Integrated Report on the Greater Mekong Sub-Region.
24See Dr. Fiona Hardy and HU Ratanakiri team, Health Situation Analysis Ratanakari, Cambodia, Health Unlimited, October/November 2001.
25 NGO Forum on Cambodia. (2005) Rethinking Poverty Reduction to Protect and Promote the Rights of Indigenous Minorities in Cambodia. p. 25.
26 Op. cit., 23.
One of the principal long-term constraints to economic and social development in Cambodia remains the poor quality of human resources. Low levels of education and poor health and nutrition status impede the development of human capital. Geographic, economic, and cultural constraints limit access that ethnic minorities have to both health and education services. In Cambodia, where the service standards and levels for both sectors are low, the physical and cultural isolation of ethnic minorities further contributes to very poor conditions.27
Statistics on education indicate that the adult literacy rate in Cambodia is 62 per cent. Against this, in the northeastern provinces where indigenous communities are clustered, the adult literacy rate in Ratanakiri is 23 per cent, Mondolkiri 33 per cent, Stung Treng 48 per cent and Kratie province 61 per cent.28 In fact, these figures are very likely to be a significant overestimate of Khmer language literacy amongst indigenous communities. According to NGOs working with indigenous communities in the province of Ratanakiri, only 10 per cent of indigenous people in that province are ‘functionally literate’ in Khmer language. Nationally, only 10 per cent of indigenous students enrolled in primary school complete their primary education, with high repetition rates and over-age enrollment.
Anecdotal accounts also attribute lack of access and distance to schools as a major impediment in bringing education to indigenous communities, with most schools located in provincial and district capitals. The ADB team on its field work for the Integrated Report, found that only one secondary school exists in the whole of Ratanakiri province and none of the districts with high ethnic minority populations were located near this secondary school.29
Other factors affecting education includes competing interest between going to school and looking after family needs, cost of books and other materials, distance to schools, language30 of instruction used in the schools, lack of culturally appropriate education, lack of teachers, etc.
A draft law on education that was drafted in 2004 continues to await approval by the National Assembly. The draft law on education recognises the distinctive educational needs of indigenous communities and the right to formal education in their indigenous language. Other significant events include the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports approval of scripts for five languages in 2003. Four of these scripts are for languages in Ratanakiri Province, and one for Mondulkiri Province. All use the script of the national language, Khmer, as a base; so Khmer literacy is also strengthened.31
27ADB, (2004), Integrated Report on the Greater Mekong Sub-Region.
30 Khmer is used as the medium of instruction in most schools. This puts the indigenous students at a disadvantage as most do not speak Khmer.
31 NGO Forum on Cambodia. (2005) Rethinking Poverty Reduction to Protect and Promote the Rights of Indigenous Minorities in Cambodia. p. 26.
In indigenous communities, Non-Formal Education (NFE) has been seen to return positive results. This form of education remains literacy based and has had much success, as indigenous communities have been given the flexibility to manage classes at the times most suited to their seasonal and daily lives. Another feature of NFE has been that the teachers have been indigenous and have been able to use indigenous language to support Khmer literacy.32
In terms of Cambodia’s formal education system, in the five provinces of Preah Vihear, Kratie, Stung Treng, Mondolkiri and Ratanakiri, CARE International in Cambodia has worked closed with the Ministry of Education to develop an educational curriculum and program with bilingual language instruction – the language of the indigenous community in which a school is located and Khmer language. The program has been funded by UNICEF with technical input from Care International in Cambodia. Indigenous children began the program’s first school term in September 2002, and classes for children beginning grade five begin in January 2007. Cambodia’s Ministry of Education has been a leading agency in the development of this bilingual indigenous language/Khmer language curriculum in the country’s formal education system, and CARE International in Cambodia and the Ministry of Education are continuing to work together to develop, improve and expand the access of indigenous children to the program in the five provinces. While there is concern on the part of independent analysts that there are some senior officials in the Ministry of Education who view this program as simply a “bridging program” that will integrate indigenous children into the formal Khmer-language-only educational establishment (and, ultimately, into the dominant ethnic Khmer society), a continuing process of monitoring and expansion of these bilingual education curricula will hopefully prevent such a narrow, ultra-nationalistic scenario from occurring. That such a scenario is possible once again indicates the obstacles that indigenous communities face as they attempt to maintain their respective languages and cultures while enabling themselves to deal on a relatively equal basis with the majority ethnic Khmer population and the Cambodian state.
There is a strong need to develop many more mechanisms that will address the distinctive educational needs of indigenous communities. Land and resource alienation has already given rise to a precarious situation, and without major improvements in their access to education (through the indigenous language/Khmer language curricula programs in the formal educational system or through Non-Formal Education) will only further contribute to the process of marginalisation and exploitation suffered by indigenous communities.
Land Expropriation, Encroachment and Concessions
In Cambodia, land is the foremost source of conflict. Conflicts caused by land grabbing, encroachment, and land concessions are increasing rapidly in the country, while those
driven by timber harvesting have been reduced and the primary locus of conflict has shifted from forest resources to land.
In 1999, the UN Special Rapporteur, referring to the situation of human rights in Cambodia noted, “The rights of indigenous communities to land and the natural resources on which their livelihoods depend is under threat not only because of logging and plantations, but also from land grabbing, which takes several forms: bribes to the weakest members of a community, false promises, enticement, or simply intimidation and violence”.33
An NGO that provides legal aid reported that its annual land-related caseload of 2003 involved 7,000 families, with the vast majority of the conflicts involving military commanders or provincial and local officials. There seems to have been no shift from this trend with the Human Rights Watch reporting in early 2005 that, “Land confiscation continues to be a major issue throughout the country, with many land conflicts involving ownership claims by individuals or private concessions backed by military commanders or government officials. Concessions granted to private companies by the government have led to increasing landlessness and destruction of the natural resources on which Cambodia’s rural population depends for its livelihood.”34 Approximately 2.7 million hectares (approximately 15 per cent) of Cambodia’s land has been given to private companies for commercial development, according to a report issued by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia.35
As indigenous communities in Cambodia consistently state that the most important issue affecting them is the expropriation of their communal lands and resources by non-indigenous individuals and state agencies, the Land Law of 2001 is of enormous importance of these communities. According to the International Labour Organisation, “The expropriation of indigenous lands……represents the first and fundamental break with traditional ways of life and occupational practices and constitutes a serious threat to the culture, health and living conditions of indigenous and tribal peoples.”36 The Land Law of 2001 was formulated, in part, to provide indigenous communities the rights to control, manage and utilise their local resources, with the ultimate objective of indigenous community collective ownership title of their lands, forests, and other cultural and livelihood resources.
33 UN Doc., E/CN.4/1999/101, 26 February 1998, para. 132.
34 Human Rights Watch, 2005.
35 Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Human Rights in Cambodia, 19 December 2003, E/CN.4/2004/105 at para 26. [Special Representative Report] p. 41.
36 International Labour Organisation (2000). Traditional Occupations of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples: Emerging trends.
The relevant articles contained in the Land Law of 2001 are as follows.
Article 23: “An indigenous community is a group of people who reside in the
territory of the Kingdom of Cambodia whose members manifest ethnic, social, cultural and economic unity and who practice a traditional lifestyle, and who cultivate the lands in their possession according to customary rules of collective use.
“Prior to their legal status being determined under a law on communities, the groups actually existing at present shall continue to manage their community and immovable property according to their traditional customs and shall be subject to the provisions of this law.”
Regarding Article 23, representatives of indigenous communities state that the management of “their community and immovable property according to the traditional customs does not include the sale of land. According to an elder of the indigenous Jarai community of Kong Yu, in Ratanakiri’s O Yadao district, “Since our ancestral times, indigenous people never sold land. Now, we cannot collect vegetables and plants like before. All the land, they say, belongs to a company. I am very concerned for the younger generation when all the land and forest is gone.”37
Article 25: “The lands of indigenous communities are those lands where the said communities have established their residences and where they carry out traditional agriculture.
“The lands of indigenous communities include not only lands actually cultivated but also includes reserves necessary for the shifting of cultivation which is required by the agricultural methods they currently practise and which are recognised by the administrative authorities.
“The measurement and demarcation of boundaries of immovable properties of indigenous communities shall be determined according to the factual situation as asserted by the communities, in agreement with their neighbours, and as prescribed by procedures in Title VI of this law and relevant sub-decrees.”
Article 26 of the Land Law allows indigenous communities to own land collectively. This collective ownership includes all of the rights and protections of ownership as are enjoyed by private owners. But the community does not have the right to dispose of any collective ownership that is State Public Property to any person or group. The exercise of all ownership rights related to immovable properties of a community and the specific conditions of the land use shall be subject to the responsibility of the traditional authorities and mechanisms for decision-making of the community, according to their customs.
According to Article 28, no authority outside the community may acquire any rights to immovable properties belonging to an indigenous community, and Article 39 of the Land Law states that the transfer of possession is not recognised for land eligible for indigenous collective title and that indigenous people and communities do not have the right to sell the land eligible for collective title.
37 NGO Forum, Land Alienated from Indigenous Minority Communities in Ratanakiri, NGO Forum, Phnom Penh, 2006.
In his report to the 62
session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, in 2005, Special
Rapporteur on the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples, Mr. Rodolfo Stavenhagen, “warned in his report that there was still an “implementation gap” between legislation and day-to-day reality and that enforcement and observance of the law was beset with myriad obstacles and problems…The main problem is the “implementation gap”, the vacuum between existing legislation and administrative, legal and political practice. The divide between form and substance constitutes a violation of the human rights of indigenous people.”
This is certainly the case in Cambodia. The Land Law of 2001 is explicit in its definition of indigenous land and the protections afforded to these lands until a formal process of collective land titling can be formulated and implemented (which is the subject of an on-going drafting process for a sub-decree to the Land Law which could achieve this objective). However, the administrative, legal and political practices of provincial and national state agencies have completely undermined the Land Law, effectively making the Land Law irrelevant in the protection of the lands and cultures of indigenous communities in Cambodia.
A few recently documented examples of the “implementation gap” provide an understanding of the obstacles being confronted by indigenous communities as they attempt to protect their lands from expropriation by influential individuals.
In November 2005, the people of the indigenous communities of Rach, Pa-or and Om, in Aikapeap commune, O’Chum district, Ratanakiri province, attempted to stop the clearing of their crops and agricultural lands by a bulldozer and workers employed by Mr. Kith Sok Khay, an influential businessman who claimed to own the land. Representatives of the communities, with the support of the human rights organisation ADHOC, petitioned the Ratanakiri Provincial Court to order Mr. Kith and his employers to stop the clearance of the communities’ lands. In response the court issued an “urgent
(court order)” to allow the land clearing to continue and threatening the arrest of any community members attempting to stop the clearance. Court officials stated that “certificates” held by Mr. Kith proved that he owned the land. ADHOC lawyers explained that under the Land Law of 1992 land title over agricultural land was not permitted, that possession certificates issued under the 1992 Land Law was for land to be used for farmer-family livelihood (not large-scale industrial plantations as proposed by Mr. Kith), that the indigenous people of the communities had not applied for or received possession certificates and that they could therefore not legally sell the land, that Mr. Kith had violated Cambodia’s contract law by not undertaken open and transparent negotiations with the communities in his ‘purchase’ of their land, and that the Land Law of 2001 effectively prohibited the sale of indigenous community land until the communities had received collective title to their lands. The Ratanakiri Provincial Court refused to rescind the ‘urgent
’. Weeks later two community representatives were arrested and jailed for two and a half months. Clearance of the land continued until March 2006, when a provincial court ruling prohibited clearance of the land by Mr. Kith
and prohibited the use of the land by village people to grow their food crops on the land
, pending a ruling by the court as to ‘ownership’ of the land. (For
details, see Appendix 4, below.)
• On 4 August 2004, the Royal Government of Cambodia approved in principle a land concession of 199,999 hectares of land to Wuzhishan L.S. Group, a Cambodian-Chinese company, to establish a pine tree plantation. This concession was granted in violation of the Land Law of 2001, which restricts land concessions to a maximum of 10,000 hectares. About 20,193 ha of the concession area is located inside the Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area, with 6,345 ha in the Seima’s core protected zone, in Mondolkiri province.39 The concession area is home to the indigenous Phnong, who use the area for livestock grazing, practise traditional swidden agriculture on their chamkar fields, and whose culture and animist religion is embedded in the surrounding landscape.40
Efforts by the affected communities to register their protest have been met with use of force from the authorities. On 16 June 2005, indigenous communities affected by the land clearance and associated plantation activities assembled outside the Wuzhishan headquarters in Sen Monorom, Mondulkiri to request the company to cease its activities and return the lands to the communities were water-cannoned by the police to disperse them.41 But the protest did result in the Council of Ministers ordering Wuzhishan to immediately cease its planting activities and to work with provincial authorities to ensure that community lands were not affected by the company before any further planting is allowed. The governor of Mondulkiri also issued an order to Wuzhishan to temporarily suspend all activities, and refrain from using burial, forested, chamkar, and village lands of the communities.42 However the company continued its activities and authorities did not implement the orders. Protests against the non-implementation of the orders were met with increased efforts by the authorities to stop the protesters. (For details, see Appendix 3, below.)
In August 2004, the indigenous Jarai community of Kong Yu, Patae commune, O Yadao district, Ratanakiri province, was visited by a delegation of government officials, led by Patae Commune Chief Mr. Sev O’vao and including three other commune and village officials. These government officials informed the people of Kong Yu that the Ratanakiri provincial government wanted to establish a “development project” on land belonging to Kong Yu. Representatives of Kong Yu replied that they did not want to sell any land as it was essential for the present and future generations of their families. The government officials then informed the people that if they did not agree to sell the land, the government would expropriate the land and the people of Kong Yu would not receive any money. The government officials did not inform the people of the amount of land that would be required for the “development project”. According to the people of Kong Yu, they were very afraid that they would lose their land and not even receive money for their land. Many village people thumb-printed a document provided by the government officials, even though the people could not read the document and
were not informed of the contents of the document.
On 27 August 2004, Patae Commune Council Chief Mr. Sev O’vao and Kong Yu Village Chief Mr. Poy Svagn called the village people to a meeting in Kong Yu. The meeting was presided over by the District Governor of O’Yadao, Mr. Heng Bunthan. Village families received envelopes containing money.
According to representatives of Kong Yu community, the total paid for the land was US$90,000. Village people received a total of $20,000. The above-named officials of the Commune government received a total of $10,000 to $15,000, and the distribution of the remainder to other government officials at higher levels. Approximately 250 hectares of their land and forests have now been cleared, fenced with barbed wire, and planted with cashew tree saplings, although community representatives now believe another 200 hectares of their land may be confiscated according to the “contracts” they signed. According to these representatives, they have been told by government officials that this land is now owned by Her Excellency Mrs. Keat Kolney, owner of a “development company” in Phnom Penh. Mrs. Kolney is the wife of Mr. Chan Sophan, Secretary of State for the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, who is a relative of Prime Minister Hun Sen. The efforts of the people of Kong Yu to return the money, and their requests to the Ratanakiri Provincial Court that their land be returned to the community, have so far proven futile. (For details, see Appendix 2, below.)
38 Pablo Espiniella, “The Special Rapporteur – Overview 2005”, in The Indigenous World 2006, Copenhagen, Denmark: International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs.
39 Wuzhishan Economic Concession: An analysis of the Wuzhishan Concession based upon CG Indicators, undated.
40 Op. cit., 39.
41 “Police Disperse Phnong Hilltribe Protestors,” The Cambodia Daily, 17 June 2005
42 Op. cit., 39.
Indigenous affairs analysts and human rights organisations now estimate that there have been approximately 10,000 land dispute cases brought to Cambodia’s provincial courts of law in the past five years. According to these analysts and organisations, not a single one of these cases has been resolved to the satisfaction of a local community or indigenous community that had previously used or occupied the land before the “possession” or “ownership” of the land came into dispute. It is absolutely clear that, in Cambodia’s Courts of Law, local and indigenous communities are at a total disadvantage when politically influential individuals lay claim to the lands and resources of these communities.
According to the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (LICADHO), “…since [land expropriation] cases tend to involve multiple victims, sometimes hundreds per case, land grabbing violations often affect the greatest number of
people. Landlessness is synonymous with desperate poverty for the rural poor, thus land grabbing situations present a life and death challenge to victims.”
As the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Cambodia Corruption Assessment of 2004 reports, “Politicians skillful at resisting and diverting the international development community are just as capable of controlling a largely rural population through demagogy, false promises and intimidation. The raw power of the state, complemented by fear and the distribution of small gifts and favors at critical junctures, will continue to provide a veneer of political legitimacy. Under this cloak of legitimacy, were it to be allowed to persist by the international community, the rapacious exploitation of Cambodia’s economy will continue with unforeseen consequences for the country’s political and socioeconomic development.”43
The above summaries of a selection of the case studies presented in the appendices of this report provide a stark picture of the avenues by which the wealthy/politically powerful elite of Cambodian society are able to expropriate the lands of indigenous communities. The pervasive ignorance and/or willful negligence of state agencies, courts of law, government authorities, law enforcement authorities, and generally of government officials of the Land Law and other laws, policies, and constitutional rights, combined with the ability of the politically powerful/wealthy elite to finance the corruption and illegal activities of these state agencies, courts of law, government authorities, etc., make it all but impossible for indigenous communities to defend their lands and themselves from expropriation and exploitation.
Some initiatives by the Royal Government of Cambodia to address the issue of land disputes have so far proven to be marginally important, at best.
In March 2006, the National Authority on Land Dispute Resolution (NALDR) was established by the Cambodian government. The extent to which NALDR may have the authority to resolve land disputes, and may be composed of individuals who will not be influenced by the politically powerful elite that is engaged in much of the expropriation of local and indigenous community land, remains to be seen. The number of land disputes that have been placed before the NALDR is not known. To date, the NALDR has not resolved any land disputes.
In Ratanakiri province, a Land Conflict Resolutions and Titling Project ,of the provincial Department of Land Management of the national Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction and with funding from the Asian Development Bank, is, in terms of resolving land conflicts, a complete and abject failure. In the province with some of the most notorious and clearly illegal cases of expropriation of indigenous lands, the Land Conflict Resolutions and Titling Project has, to date, not resolved a single land conflict involving indigenous communities. Neither NGOs working in Ratanakiri nor indigenous communities have any hope that this “project” will contribute to a resolution of land conflicts. Mr. Tim Simat, Director of the Ratanakiri provincial Department of Land Management and Vice-Chairperson of the Committee to Resolve Land Conflicts, when asked whether the sale/purchase of indigenous community land was illegal in terms of the
Land Law of 2001, stated that, “We must listen to both sides of a land conflict. The [indigenous] people lack knowledge and demand the return of their land. But the outsiders also have rights.” That a senior government official with responsibility for land conflict resolution is not aware of the basic tenets of the Land Law of 2001 speaks volumes with regard to the challenges confronting indigenous communities in Ratanakiri, and in Cambodia, as they attempt to protect and conserve their homelands.
However, the Land Conflict Resolutions and Titling Project, with the support of the Un-funded Partnership for Local Governance, has also been engaged in two pilot projects in community land titling in Ratanakiri province. The process in the two indigenous communities has been excruciatingly slow, according to a staff member of PLG who requested anonymity, as the very process of using technology such as Digital GPS (a technology that indigenous people do not understand and therefore do not accept) and the prospect of permanent and immovable community land boundaries officially demarcated between communities with often over-lapping, shared, and negotiated-access resources is causing conflict within and between these communities. It appears that, despite the best intentions, culturally insensitive and technologically intensive efforts to resolve or prevent inter-community conflict over access to land and other livelihood resources is actually proving to be a cause of intra- and inter-community conflict amongst indigenous communities in Ratanakiri province.
43 USAID, “Cambodia Corruption Assessment,” August 2004.
The trend of land alienation of indigenous communities in Cambodia seems set to continue. As industrial tree and cash-crop plantations, mining concessions,44 large hydroelectric dams,45 forest/logging concessions,46 and the roads associated with these projects make these once remote areas increasingly accessible, more and more outsiders from more populous areas are migrating into the ancestral lands of indigenous communities. The establishment of national parks or protected areas47 where the traditional user rights of indigenous communities are then limited or denied is also a cause for serious concern. The repercussions of these developments on the rights and livelihoods of indigenous peoples are immeasurable and often irreversible.
44 In the late 1990s a gem mine near the Chum Bai Srok waterfall in Ratanakiri, a protected area, was developed leading to a significant increase in population in the area. In 2006, the Government of Cambodia approved a 10,000 hectare survey concession in Ratanakiri province to the Australian transnational mining corporation BHP-Billiton.
45 The construction of a dam by Viet Nam on the Se San river which flows into Cambodia, has caused innumerable problems. Massive floods, decline in number of fishes on which the indigenous communities depend for their livelihood etc., have been recorded since the dam construction.
46 Logging has a considerable impact on community health, life and beliefs and disturbs the non-timber forest products on which communities rely.
For example, the establishment of the Virachey National Park has resulted in displacement and land alienation of indigenous communities. Most of the Brao-Kavet who
used to live inside Virachey were forcibly evicted from their traditional lands near the Laos border by successive Cambodian governments, from the mid-1950s until the mid-1980s.
The First International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (1994-2004) has just recently ended. The Decade was celebrated with the objective of strengthening international cooperation for solving problems faced by indigenous people in such areas as human rights, environment, development, education and health. Ironically, within the same decade, the indigenous peoples of Cambodia have seen a surge in the violation of the same rights that the Decade sought to promote and emphasize.
The violation of indigenous people’s rights, especially the expropriation of the lands and other resources of indigenous communities, has much to do with the imbalanced application of development models that cater to those who already have power and wealth at their disposal. As a result, the indigenous communities, who have frequently suffered from racism and exploitation in the past, have become the easiest target for further exploitation, with the result of further social and economic marginalisation.
As this report has illustrated, the indigenous peoples of Cambodia are confronted with a number of difficult challenges as they attempt to maintain their cultures, local economies, their homelands and their livelihood security. The systemic problems of conventional economic development promoted by international financial institutions and mainstream development agencies are well-known for their severe impacts on the livelihoods and cultures of indigenous people (and, indeed, the vast majority of people in the Global South). These problems are so deeply endemic in the conventional economic development model that, for the time-being, Cambodia’s indigenous communities will need to look to themselves, a small group of nongovernmental organisations, and their government for solutions to their problems.
Indigenous people’s very limited access to the formal education system and Western-scientific health care indicates that they are not being provided with the benefits of development while bearing all the costs of development. At the same time, as indigenous people clearly state, the expropriation of their lands and resources by and for “development” is a direct and immediate threat to their communities and their livelihood security.
From the above brief discussion on the health, education and land situations of indigenous communities in Cambodia, there emerges a grim account of the denial of human rights to these communities. This situation indicates a deeper, larger, and endemic problem in political governance. Rights which are enshrined in the Cambodian Constitution – access to information and justice; freedom of expression, assembly, peaceful demonstration, association and movement; social, economic, political and personal security – are being systematically denied to the country’s indigenous communities.
The Royal Government of Cambodia’s National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP) of 2004 recognises that corruption is a major problem, “[Corruption] is not clearly measurable but its deleterious effects pervade all government activities. RGC has adopted and will pursue a multi-pronged approach on this social and economic evil that stunts equitable growth and discourages private investment and disadvantages the poor. The goal is to eliminate all opportunities for corruption through unambiguous laws and procedures, clear transparency, accountability and predictability with stringent punishment of those detected of corrupt behaviour”
As with many of the Royal Government of Cambodia’s policies and the country’s national laws, the “implementation gap” between the letter and spirit of these policies and laws and their implementation and enforcement should be a clear signal to the international community that the RGC is unwilling and/or unable to protect the rights of Cambodia’s indigenous people. As the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples has succinctly reported, “The main problem is the ‘implementation gap’, the vacuum between existing legislation and administrative, legal and political practice. The divide between form and substance constitutes a violation of the human rights of indigenous people.”48
The elimination of the widespread corruption within Cambodia’s government, from the national to the local levels, and the ability of the country’s wealthy/politically powerful elite to corrupt government officials at the provincial, district, commune and village levels must clearly be a top priority for the international financial institutions, “development” agencies and donor governments that are providing billions of dollars in “aid” to the Royal Government of Cambodia. However, the elimination of this corruption will require many years, and probably decades, to achieve. In the meantime, the closure of the “implementation gap” is essential if the rights and livelihoods of Cambodia’s indigenous peoples are to be protected and strengthened. Towards this end, the authors of this report suggest a number of recommendations, below.
48 Pablo Espiniella, “The Special Rapporteur – Overview 2005”, in The Indigenous World 2006, Copenhagen, Denmark: International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs.
In most indigenous communities in Cambodia, traditional birthing attendants (TBAs) fulfill an important social, cultural and health role in maternal and neo-natal care. The extension of training of mid-wives and TBAs is of crucial importance to reducing maternal and infant mortality in indigenous communities. While in the province of Ratanakiri such training, based on cooperation between NGOs and the provincial Department of Health, has achieved some important achievements in such training, much more needs to be done, both in Ratanakiri and in other provinces in which indigenous communities reside and such training programs have not yet been initiated. It should be noted also that while provision
of emergency maternal, birthing, neo-natal and early childhood healthcare based on western scientific medical practices is important, reliance on provision of these services, requiring expensive training of health professionals and equipment puts this beyond the immediate or even medium-term ability of the health service system in Cambodia. Cultural and economic factors are also of major importance in terms of the willingness and ability of indigenous women’s ability to access these services. The training of mid-wives and TBAs in basic hygiene issues and in identifying the danger signals during late pregnancy and during the early phases of labour, and provision of inexpensive but vitally important equipment (such as birthing kits provided to mid-wives and TBAs free-of-charge), should become a national program, with technical and financial assistance provided by donor agencies and health-related NGOs, in cooperation with the national Ministry of Health.
That the UN and other donors continue to monitor the indigenous language/Khmer language educational program established by the Ministry of Education, UNICEF, and Care International in Cambodia so as to ensure that the fundamental objectives of this program – education based on indigenous languages, the teaching of Khmer language, and the strengthening of indigenous cultures – are not undermined by ultra-nationalistic influences. UN agencies, donors and NGOs should lobby the Royal Government of Cambodia to approve the draft law on education, so long as the draft continues to recognize the distinctive educational needs of Cambodia’s indigenous communities.
Land Expropriation, Encroachment and Concessions
Implementation and enforcement of the Land Law of 2001 is of crucial importance to sustaining the cultural and livelihood security of indigenous communities in Cambodia. This can be achieved in a number of ways:
• An immediate moratorium declared by the Royal Government of Cambodia on government approval – at any level of government – of any land concessions and the sale or purchase of any lands located in the homelands of indigenous communities.
• An immediate revocation of any land concessions and/or any land sales or purchases of any land located in the homelands of indigenous communities. No compensation will be offered to any purchaser or concessionaire that has bought or received any lands located in the homelands of indigenous communities as, in the absence of any clarification of the penalties for violating the provisions of the Land Law of 2001 (and the Land Law of 1992), such compensation would be an illegal payment in compensation for an illegal act by any purchaser or concessionaire claiming ownership of such lands.
The immediate publication and dissemination of the key articles of the Land Law of 2001 regarding the illegality of the sale and purchase of any lands located in the homelands of indigenous communities. This document would be disseminated to all government officials at all levels of government – national, provincial, district, commune, and village – as well as all officers of courts of law at the national and provincial levels, so that all government officials and officers of courts of law are aware that the sale and purchase of any lands located in the homelands of
indigenous communities violates the Land Law.
• The process of land surveys and registration of the lands and resources belonging to indigenous communities be evaluated by a government-sanctioned commission composed of relevant government agencies, concerned NGOs, and representatives of indigenous communities, so that the current problems relating to these surveys and registration can be overcome, and the process refined so as to be inclusive, participatory, accountable and subject to appeal by indigenous communities and a dispute resolution process that includes the respective Council of Elders of the communities involved in such disputes.
Action by the agencies and good offices of the United Nations, of international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, bi-lateral development agencies, and many nongovernmental organizations regarding the crisis now confronted by Cambodia’s indigenous communities has been long-delayed. All of these agencies, institutions and organizations therefore bear a significant responsibility for the violations of the human rights of Cambodia’s indigenous peoples during the past 15 years. A concerted approach to rectify the present situation is long overdue and the above recommendations provide the basis for such an approach. In focusing on the rights of Cambodia’s indigenous peoples and communities, the international community can cite many international conventions and laws, as well as Cambodian laws, designed to protect the rights of indigenous people. If the international community were to achieve such an objective, the rights of all Cambodian citizens, many of whom are being victimized by the country’s wealthy/politically powerful elite, would then also be supported.
The situation of Cambodia’s indigenous communities deserves special recognition and concerted action, but the situation of Cambodia’s social majority who are put at a disadvantage and suffer injustice as a result of the country’s wealthy/politically powerful elite should not be ignored. In a strategic sense, Cambodia’s indigenous communities can be the first of the country’s people to receive protection and justice, but only if the protection of their rights and their access to justice is but the first step to the extension of human rights and social justice to the majority of Cambodia’s people.
International Instruments Ratified by Cambodia
present, their thumbprints were supplie
O P th (“ A w d A V g government off
now been cleared, fenced with barbed wire, and planted with cashew tree
community representatives now believe another 200 h
by government officials that this land is now owned by Her Excellency Mrs. Keat Kolney, owner of a “development company” in Phnom Penh. Mrs. Kolney is the wife of HE Mr. Chan Sophan, Secretary of State for the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction. Mrs. Keat is also the sister of HE Mr. Keat Chhon, Minister of Economics and Finance. All three of these individuals are relatives of Prime Minister Hun Sen. The efforts of the people of Kong Yu to return the money, and their requests to the Ratanakiri Provincial Court that their land be returned to the community, have so far proven futile.
The Lands of the Phnong Indigenous People in Mondolkiri Province and the “Conceof Wuzhishan L.S. Group
A case that is generating a lot of protest and interest presently involves the government approval of a land concession of 199,999 hectares of land for pine tree plantation to Wuzhishan L.S. Group, a Cambodian-Chinese company. This concession was granted in violation of the Land Law of 2001, which restricts land concessions to a maximum of 10,000 hectares. About 20,193 ha of the concession area is located inside the Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area, with 6,345 ha in the Seima’s core protected zone, in Mondolkiri province.
The agreement between the government and Wuzhishan, dated 9 August 2004 was conducted without environmental or social impact assessments.
Although sparsely populated, the concession area is home to the indigenous Phnong, who use the area for livestock grazing, practise traditional
swidden agriculture on their
Appendix 4 The Lands of the Tampuen
Kith Sok Khay and Seng Piseth In 1996, the indigenous Tampuen people of Rach, Pa-or and Om villages were told by government officials from the Land Title Department, Aikapeap commune and O’Chum dthat they should thumbprint documents that would allow the transfer of 200 hectares of their agricultural and other common lands for a “development activity that would
by the government officials that this was a “development project” that they had to accept. The government officials received from the ‘buyers’ of the land a total of US$2,500 for their In fact, the documents they thumbprinted (not signed, as the village people can not read or writeKhmer language, the language in which the documents
became clear that all 200 hectares were de facto ‘owned’ by a businessman named Mr. Kith SoKhay. The village people were told by the government officials that if the ‘owner’ – Mr. Kith Sok Kh– did not ‘use’ the land during the three years following the ‘sale’ of the land, then accordthe Land Law of 1992, possession of the land would revert to the village people. Villagehad been cultivati
these lands during the three year period and until 2005 (see below). The 1992 Land Law provided for “possession” and “user rights” to agricultural land, but did nprovide for the granting of land title indicating “ownership” of land. As the communities of RacPa-or and Om did not legally “own” the land, the land could not legally be sold and Mr. Kith Sok Khay’s claim of “ownership” of the land was therefore invalid. Furthermore, as the land was n‘used’ by Mr. Kith Sok Khay during the three years after the ‘sale’ of the land, the user rights the land automatically reverted to the communities, in accordance with the 1992 Land Law. In 2003, people of the three villages heard that a “new owner” of 200 hectares of their land wsoon be coming to use the land. The communities made a complaint to the prov
court. However, the “new own
(the authors of this report were unable to determine the name of this Deputy District Governor), accompanied by a co
ntingent of police and military officials, traveled to Aikapeap anCommune Council officials and the people of the three villages that the land had been sol
that the communities had to accep
“extra gift” to finalise the deal. Vi
did not accept these “gifts” of money their land would be still be expropriated. Confr
these threats an
possession of the land, they have requested advice from the Provincial Government as to what to do with the money. The Provincial
In October 2005, workers and bulldozers hired by the “new owner” who was, in fact, MSok Khay, and accompanied by a large contingent of police and military officials armed with guns, arrived and began clearing the land. The subsistence rice and other crops being grown othe land by many village families were damaged before village people could mobilize and stop the clearance. In interviews with Radio Free Asia, representatives of the communities and the Cambodian
businessman had no legal claim to the land. Mr. Kith Sok Khay then engaged court officials to file charges against the community and ADHOC representatives for defamation. An ADHOC lawyer made the defence against the charges in court. The court dropped the charges, probably a result of a large number of village people, NGO representatives, and national and international news m
Clearance of the land by bulldozers began again, and again village people protested and stopped the clearance. More food crops were destroyed only days before they would have been ready forharvest. Mr. Kith Sok Khay lodged a number of criminal cases against community representatives. A few days later, the bulldozers began to clear crops again, and village people again put a stop to the clearance. On 21 November, the provincial court issued an “urgent deka”, a court order, allowing the clearance of the land to continue and stati
On 23 November approximately 30 community representatives placed themselves in front of the bulldozers to prevent a continuation of the clearance. Heavily armed military and police officials intervened, telling the village people that they would be arrested and, while displaying to the protesters how to load bullets into the barrels of their guns, told the people that they had to be careful not to get hurt or killed. The protesters returned to their village to meet with other
More police were ordered to the scene by the Deputy District Governor (name unknown, as per above). A potentially serious conflict loomed when, at 17:00, Provincial First Deputy Governor Mr. Sna Prayut telephoned the police and ordered them to leave the area and return to their base.
provincial court to defend themselves against the criminal charges filed by Mr. Kith Sok Khay. Other representatives were called in for a meeting with O’Chum District Government officials who attempted to intimidate the representatives into accepting the loss of their land (the 56 Independent legal experts and observers are of the opinion that the provincial court’s issuance of the “urgent deka” was inappropriate, as an urgent deka is designed to be used only when stproperty is being damaged or destroyed and urgent measures are required to protect state propertyrepresentatives refused, stating that there communities did not want to loss their agricultural land). In mid-December, Mr. Duong Sacha, a representative of the communities, was returnto his home when he was beaten by unknown assailants with a burning log. Due to his severe injuries, Mr. Sacha was hospitalized and lost his ability to speak for many weeks. Mr. Sacha had
Norodom Sihamoni, the National Assembly and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cabinet of MinisterO’Chum District Governor Mr. Phou Kim Moeur concluded that the attack was a robbery, “It not dealing with the land dispute, because we all are clearly aware that the land belongs to Kith Sok Khay, who is the title-holder.”
questioning and then arrested at the provincial police station. On 18 January, another six community representatives were summoned to the provincial court. With their arrest being a very real possibility, the six representatives refused to attend. On 24 January, village people wecalled to a meeting at the O’Chum District Government office, where Mr. Kith Sok Khay offerthree hectares of land in exchange for the communities agreeing to stop their protests against his clearance and use of their land. Heavily armed military officials were present in the meeting, and village people report that these officials were abusive in speech a
On 17 March 2006, community representatives Mr. Chan Peu and Mr. Kao Ry were released from jail two months and 12 days after their arrest. While their case had received much attention from the news media and had been brought to the attention of the recently establisheAuthority on Land Dispute Resolution, their release was in response to an order issued in early March by Prime Minister Hun Sen that all people jailed as a result of land dispute protests be released. Mr. Peu and Mr. Ry were freed on bail but the charges remain pending and court authorities informed them that they would be arrested again at some time in the future. The
cultivation until the dispute has been settled, even though all of the families involved are subsistence farmers with no access to alternative means of livelihood. According to a report published in the 11 May 2006 edition of the Cambodia Daily newspaper,“On the cusp of the rainy season, ethnic minority villagers in Ratanakiri province’s O’Chumdistrict are ready to begin planting their subsistence crops, but scores of families cannot because their land dispute with a powerful businessman is in legal dispute… ‘Villagers want to plant crops on the disputed land where they have farmed for many years to support their families,’ Pen Bonnar [Provincial Coordinator, ADHOC, Ratanakiri] said, ‘But court officials prohibited both
are bold enough to plant on the land.’”57 On 5 July 2006, Ratanakiri Provincial Court judge Mr. Norng Sok ruled that the communities would receive 49 out of the 200 hectares of disputed land, with Mr. Seng Piseth receivingAccording to Mr. Norng Sok, “The dispute was solved,” and his ruling was in accordance witagreement reached between the communities and Mr. Piseth.58 Two days after the court ruling, NGO researchers traveled to the villages of Rach and Pa-or to talk with members of these communities. When the researchers arrived in Rach, they found thameeting between representatives of the two villages was underway (according to the representatives of Rach and Pa-or, the community of Om has withdrawn from the dispute). The representatives stated that they had indeed come to an agreement with Mr. Seng Piseth, who had met with many of the representatives
57 Kuch Narin, “Land dispute leaves farmers
The reasons given by the community representatives for reaching the agreement indicate
hgovernments at the commune, district, provincial and national levels, law enforcement agencieand the justice system and courts of law, are failing to protect the rights of indigenous people. The 106 families of the three communities who lost some or all of their agricultural land, community elders and other leaders did not want to be deprived of a large area of their communalland. But after years of efforts to prevent the loss of their land they were not able to sustain further effort. Intimidation, coercion, threat of or actual arrest, threats of violence and killin
authorities to protect the interests of their constituents, and the unwillingness of courts of law tuphold laws designed to protect indigenous communities and their lands, were cited by village people as seemingly insurmountable obstacles to regaining secure access to their land. The expenses involved with frequently having to travel to appear in court, submit letters and pleas foassistance, and to meetings with NGO support organizations and government officials put sevestrains on the very limited financial resources of these families and communities. These resources were put under further strain by the Provincial Court ruling that prohibited these families from cultivating their land, meaning that the purchase of necessities became a top priority. The anxieties and pressures of the conflict eventually caused divisions in the communities, with those trying to retain the land receiving less and less
the indigenous communities and families of Rach and Pa-or villages were exhausted by their attempts to retain access to their lands. They had little choice but to accept the offer of retainin25 per cent of their land and receiving $3,000 dollars for the rest of it.
Royal Cambodian Armed Forces General Nuon Phea One of the first cases on land grabbing that invited widespread attention and condemna number of international organizations and donors involved district officials in Ratanakiri province and intermediaries of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces General Nuon Phea. In 1997, district officials told the indigenous comm
development project. The village people were pressured into thumb-printing fraudulent documents that certified the village people as legal owners of their land and then transferred thosecertificates of ownership to Gen. Nuon Phea without their knowledge. In exchange, each familyreceived two kilos of salt. In 1999, the village people came to know their land had been “sfor private purpose and not for a government development project as they were informed. Subsequently they filed a complaint with the Ratanakiri provincial court despite threats and pressures. A provincial land dispute committee was formed to look into the case but the case wareferred to a national-level land resolution committee that then referred the case back to tRatanakiri provincial court. The case was taken up by the provincial court in the beginning of March 2001. When it was finally decided, on 23 March 2001 the provincial court ruled against the complaint. The Judge ruled that by thumb-printing sales and land title documents and accepting gifts the village people had agreed to sell their land, in spite of overwhelming evidence that the village people weduped into thumb-printing documents that “sold” their land. To rub salt into the wound, thealso
ordered the village people to pay taxes of approximately US$615 plus court costs. At tsame time, Gen. Nuon Phea was required to pay an additional 14 million riel ($3500) incompensation to the village people. The case was pursued with an appeal filed at the Court of Appeals which began hearing the caon 25 March 2002. However it was adjourned due to “lack of evidence”. The following day somrepresentatives of the indigenous communities, along with a lawyer an
Jarai. 60 See Lega
by the executive
the General has not received any “compensation” so far. Thus, while the indigenous communitiof Chet, Klik and Chrong are now able to cultivate and ma
try to take their land again in the future.