Cambodia has the third-highest deforestation rate on the planet, with more than 85% of its exports going to China. According to the Global Forest Watch, the country has lost more than 2.60 Mha of its tree cover from 2001 to 2021, a decrease of 30% since 2000 – equivalent to an area the size of Sicily. Nine out of every 10 trees cut down in the Prey Lang rainforest – the “Amazon of Southeast Asia” – are illegally removed. Some Buddhist monks have gone as far as performing tree ordination ceremonies to protect their territory, wrapping trees in Buddhist robes and consecrating them to deter the impoverished labourers who largely carry out the deforestation.
The labourers in question, however, are under the grip of high officials located in the palaces of power. The loot they cut down is sent to the capital of Phnom Penh and from there is smuggled to Vietnam, where it is then exported abroad.
“Cambodia’s rampant illegal logging poses an existential threat to the country’s remaining primary forests and to the [I]ndigenous peoples who depend on them for their livelihoods, culture and spiritual practices,” said Richard Pearshouse, Amnesty International’s Crisis and Environment Officer. “Cambodia’s approach to conservation is characterized by official corruption and total disregard for the rights of [I]ndigenous peoples. If the Cambodian authorities do not change course soon, the country’s protected forests will be illegally logged into oblivion.”