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Law Amendment Creates Concerns among Indigenous Communities

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Input consultation for the process of amending the Law on Forestry and the Law on Protected Areas is a very important part of the process, particularly for indigenous communities, as the actors will benefit greatly from these two laws if they are made in accordance with their decisions, adequate consultation, and with as many stakeholders as possible included. But if the consultation process does not allow for enough participation from all stakeholders, it will have a significant impact on how these laws are implemented.
The Cambodia Indigenous Peoples Alliance has been engaged in mobilizing partners to consult, particularly with indigenous people throughout the country, to ensure that their perspectives are included in the whole input consultation process for revising these two laws. We work from the local to the national level because we believe a law serves the common good in an inclusive, transparent, accountable, and democratic manner when all stakeholders are involved.
The Cambodia Indigenous Peoples Alliance has so far worked with indigenous communities at many different levels and stages, from ethnic-based to multi-ethnic consultations. In particular, it has organized workshops at the national level with indigenous representatives from provinces like Kampong Thom, Preah Vihear, Kratie, Stung Treng, Ratanakkiri, Mondulkiri, Kampong Speu, Pursat, Battambang, Koh Kong, Kampong Som, and Banteay in which indigenous groups such as Kui, Kavet, Kreung, Jarai, Chong, Tampuon, Bunong, Brao, Suy, Stieng, and Sa’Och, actively participated in providing input. They also expressed concern that the term “indigenous peoples” was removed from these proposed laws.
This is a historic event for indigenous peoples in Cambodia to debate this draft law face-to-face, ensuring that the laws serve a common interest and are in line with international standards such as the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), ILO Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention No. 111, the Laws of Cambodia and National Policies.
The process has raised concerns for indigenous communities, indigenous organizations, and CSOs because it gives them very little time to offer their input. This is especially the case for indigenous communities, who are worried that it will undermine their traditional livelihoods, culture, identity, and rightful enjoyment. These laws have had negative effects on their lives thus far, as stated in their joint statement following the consultation workshop held in Siem Reap. In particular, the definition of local communities as indigenous communities or indigenous peoples has affected the protection and respect for traditional socio-cultural characteristics.
Indigenous families and communities have faced multiple issues pertaining to social, cultural, and economic rights for over 20 years of the forest law’s enforcement and for about 12 years of the protected area law’s enforcement, including:
  • Complicated and time consuming, and expending high resources in building community,
  • Some Indigenous Peoples have been arrested and taken to court for practicing traditional agriculture, rotational or nomadic farming for livelihoods
  • Failure to fully participate in the legal demarcation of areas in areas where indigenous peoples have been living.
  • Lack of documents or certificates of traditional use rights, beliefs about locations in protected areas or forest conservation areas, etc. The fact that their community, group or family is undocumented has many legal consequences, including being prosecuted and considered illegal.
  • Confused and unclear about the purpose of multiple communities in their village or community
  • Affected by forest development projects that are classified as state land and leased to private development companies without consultation and consent from the villagers who have been living there.
  • Interpretations by sub-national law enforcement officials are vague and generally accuse indigenous peoples of being unlawful communities and ask for certification from administrative authorities.
  • Infringement of rights to collective property within a community forest or protected area community due to a decision by the Ministries to reject indigenous peoples’ claims as protected or conserved areas.
  • Indigenous peoples do not know which areas are the core or conservation areas, as the four areas have not yet been demarcated and border posts have been set up in each of the protected areas, most of which are members of indigenous communities who easily fall into charge when using land according to their right to live.

Along with this joint statement, the two-day workshop also looked at particular provisions in each of the two laws and took indigenous peoples’ views into consideration.