Statement On Indigenous Women’s Issues and Challenges on Law Enforcements and Law Amendments on Forestry and Protected Areas
Himawari Hotel, Phnom Penh, 25 January 2023
Indigenous communities, associations, and organizations consisting of a total of 48 individuals, and 36 women of indigenous Kreung, Tumpoun, Kui, Bunong, Jarai, Thmon, Por, Suy, Chong, and Sa’Och, from Ratanakiri, Kratie, Stung Treng, Preah Vihear, Kampong Thom, Kampong Speu, Pursat, Koh Kong, and Battambang provinces, organized a National Consultation Forum on Indigenous Women’s Issues and Challenges on Law Enforcements and Two New Draft Laws on Forestry and Protected Areas, with the participation of the government agencies including Ministries, Parliament, and Senate, along with national and international NGOs and media.
We, the indigenous women’s group, community representatives, associations, and organizations, would like to express our sincere thanks to His Excellency, Lok Chumteav, and the representatives of Ministries, Parliament, Senate, provincial authorities, national and international distinguished guests who are present at today’s forum. Taking advantage of this opportunity, we would like to express our concerns, issues, and challenges as individuals and as a community, as well as our request:
- The loss of land and natural resources results in land conflicts with private companies and outsiders who acquire or purchase community land. This loss has a negative impact on indigenous livelihoods, harming traditional occupations, customs, languages, and peaceful ways of life, as well as causing internal conflicts and legal harassment. Following the discussion at today’s forum, we discovered a lack of recognition of traditional rights, indigenous peoples’ social and cultural rights, and a failure to issue communal land titles on time.
- Some provincial sub-national authorities discriminate against indigenous peoples and refuse to recognize their identity. This refusal allows outsiders to encroach on or purchase communal land, and thus impedes the process of indigenous identification and collective land registration in compliance with existing laws.
- As of today’s forum, many indigenous women are still facing litigation that could result in jail and fines of thousands of dollars, which deeply concerns us. According to what was said at today’s meeting, our efforts to safeguard the forest, spiritual forest, and mountain have resulted in legal harassment of which we are unaware. At least 42 criminal charges have been filed in relation to the social, cultural, and traditional occupation-related economic rights that many indigenous women participating in this forum face. The following are the cases:
- 3 cases in Preah Vihear
- 6 cases in Kampong Thom
- 1 case in Stung Treng
- 29 cases in Mondulkiri
- 2 cases in Ratanakiri
- 1 case in Kraties
We congratulate and are delighted that the proceedings against four defendants were dropped by Mondulkiri’s first instant court, and that the Supreme Court delivered justice to three Bunong indigenous women.
- We, who are defending our communities’ rights, land, and natural resources, have been summoned way too many times by the commune authority, police, gendarmerie, district, and provincial authorities, which causes us great concern.
- Indigenous women are concerned about law enforcement and legal frameworks that are overly complicated, lack implementing officers, and, in particular, lack proper consultation and meaningful participation of community representatives and elders, who serve as the community’s living library and have extensive knowledge of customary laws and traditions. The loss of customary laws is our biggest concern.
- We hereby support the joint statement on indigenous community representatives’ inputs, which was released on August 15-16, 2022 in Siem Reap province.
As a result, we, a woman’s group and community representatives attending today’s discussion would like to call on and request the following:
- Consider indigenous society to be a permanent society and self-development that preserves our indigenous identity in accordance with laws and policies that recognize an inherent distinctiveness and secure collective rights as provided for in national and international instruments.
- The government shall expedite the process of collective land registration based on the actual size and boundary set by the community, as well as some portion of the state’s forested land that is jointly managed and protected by the community and competent authorities. The collective land registration is only done on 5 categories of land, and the state land that we protect and use is excluded, as is the limitation of just 7 hectares of spiritual forest, which has an impact on our religious beliefs. The majority of the community has beliefs about the entire mountain and forest, regardless of size.
- Urge sub-national authorities to expedite the issuing of administrative papers and their forwarding to the national or ministry level in order to avoid obstacles and delays.
- Request that legal charges against indigenous women and community members be dismissed and nullified as soon as possible.
- While waiting for registration, request that the provincial authorities give interim protection measures, recognition documents, or certifications for forests of belief, culture, tradition, and other areas that are a source of economy, market, and daily subsistence for indigenous peoples.
- Request that all comments available in the joint statement made in Siem Reap on August 15-16, 2022, be incorporated into two new draft laws, and include the following points:
- Before the process of land registration, there should be a formality to acknowledge an existing team at the sub-national level to continue managing community, land, and natural resources.
- Should impose legal penalties on individuals who violate the rights to use and enjoy land before it is registered.
- Ensure customary occupation governance despite the lack of land titles.
- We insist on the words “indigenous peoples” and “indigenous community” remaining in these two laws. The replacement of “indigenous peoples” with “local community” causes us tremendous concern since it means we will lose opportunities and our natural rights as outlined in UNDRIP.
- Request that our comments on draft laws on protected areas and forestry be incorporated into the fishery amendment law.
- Urge state institutions, national and international organizations, and the United Nations to give attention to law enforcement, principles, and national and international fundamental standards that assist indigenous peoples in achieving inclusive development.
Finally, we, the indigenous women and community representatives, would like to offer our heartfelt gratitude to His Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen present at the National Consultation Forum, and wish you the best of luck, happiness, and success in all your endeavors.