Calls for Speedier Indigenous Communal Titles

Indigenous groups met in Phnom Penh on Tuesday to call on the government to speed up the process of registering communal land, which visiting U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri said is one of the most pressing issues facing ethnic minorities.

Speaking at an NGO Forum workshop, representatives from 24 ethnic minorities spoke of sluggish registration procedures, the loss of spiritually significant land and forests, and being looked over in favor of development firms.

“The authorities rejected to provide communal land registration to the Kachak minority,” said group representative Sam Hnoeuy who traveled from Ratanakkiri province.

“Of 5,000 hectares that is proposed for communal land titles, the government has granted a concessional land title to a Vietnamese company,” he said, adding that the group now has just 2,000 hectares left and that their livelihoods depend on forests.

The titles, only a few of which have been awarded since being put into the Land Law more than a decade ago, were established as a way to safeguard the communal land of indigenous minorities and prevent unscrupulous developers from buying titles piecemeal from the community.

While 95 communities have been identified by the Rural Development Ministry as in need of such titles, the Land Management Ministry has only handed out eight, said NGO Forum executive director Tek Vanara.

“If the government process is too slow to provide communal land titles, we are concerned that the communities will face more challenges such as economic land concessions, increased land disputes and illegal logging,” he said.

Sao Vary, a bureau chief who represented the Land Management Ministry, said there are difficulties in demarcating land, stemming from administrative issues and claims by other communities.

In a speech, Ms. Pansieri, who is in Cambodia on a five-day mission, said the workshop was “much-needed, given the slow pace on titling.” Referring to a promise to speed up the rate to 10 per year, Ms. Pansieri said, “That rate would still mean that decades more would need to pass before indigenous titling will be resolved…. The aim should be more ambitious.”

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