Statement: Solidarity with Heng Phen, Indigenous Land Rights Defender In Cambodia
International Land Coalition Asia (ILC Asia) stands in solidarity with Heng Phen, an indigenous woman and land rights defender from the Kuy community in Cambodia. Local authorities arrested Phen on 14 June 2022 and sent her to pretrial detention at the Kampong Thom Provincial Court in central Cambodia.
Phen was charged with “committing violence against a real estate occupant” – a charge she denied – after a complaint came from Chheng Phan, a representative of Sambath Platinum company. The company used a section under Cambodia’s Land Law to wrongfully charge Phen. This is particularly concerning as Kuy women play a crucial role in their communities as defenders of their environment and cultures.
The indigenous Kuy community has had a long-standing dispute with Sambath Platinum since 2012. In 2011 the state granted the company nearly 2,500 hectares of land concessions for a rubber plantation in Boeng Per Wildlife Sanctuary, in Kampong Thom province. A community representative, Hean Hiek, said that in 2014 the provincial administration asked the company to cut off 130 hectares of its concession land and distribute it back to the community. The company was also ordered to stay at least 100 meters away from a canal that the community used.
However, Hiek said the company never obeyed. He also claimed that just last month, eight police officers armed with weapons came to the village and intimidated the villagers, injuring them and seizing their farm tractors. The community alleged that the company had cleared about 700 of 1,000 hectares of their land.
Lorang Yun of Cambodia Indigenous Peoples Alliance (CIPA), a member of ILC, expressed his concern over this unjust treatment against Phen for peacefully protecting the community’s land. “It is unjust and discriminates the indigenous peoples. The court favours the company and criminalises her instead of upholding the rights of indigenous peoples as recognised by Cambodian law. Mrs Phen should not be charged with a crime for peacefully using, managing, and claiming the land. We urge the court to release Mrs Phen and dismiss the case against her,” said Lorang.
As a coalition of 59 civil society organisations in 14 countries in Asia, including Cambodia, ILC Asia supports our members who have worked tirelessly to protect the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, especially in the face of criminalisation and violent threats. Despite being the custodians of the land that they have lived on for generations and of the traditional knowledge that they hold to preserve our planet, indigenous peoples are often denied the right to own and access land. This is particularly concerning given that Cambodia adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, which recognises Indigenous peoples’ rights to their land, territories and resources, and obliges states to protect indigenous representatives to be free from any kind of discrimination in the exercise of their rights.
The Land and Housing Rights Network (LAHRIN), an ILC-supported national platform on land rights in Cambodia, has been working with local governments and civil society to assist indigenous communities in obtaining Collective Land Titles (CLT). The progress has been slow and is often hampered by red-tape bureaucracy, according to Sophea Pheap, facilitator of LAHRIN.
Together with ILC member organisations in Cambodia, we call on the Cambodian Government:
- To immediately drop all fabricated charges against Heng Phen and release the indigenous rights defender immediately;
- To immediately stop the criminalisation, any act of violence and harassment against indigenous rights defenders, community leaders, and political activists.
- To facilitate the effective recognition of collective land ownership of indigenous lands, in collaboration with Cambodia’s Indigenous Peoples.
For more information, please contact
Lorang Yun (Khmer, English)
Secretariat Coordinator, CIPA
Andita Listyarini (Bahasa Indonesia, English)
Communications Officer, ILC Asia