Criticism of Cambodia’s Policy On Indigenous People Grows

NGOs and other groups condemn the government’s treatment of minorities as UN report looms

As the UN was due to release its concluding remarks in a report on Cambodia’s performance un­der the International Conven­tion on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination last night, local NGOs and indigenous peoples’ organizations from around Asia issued scathing criticism of the treatment of indigenous communities in Cambodia.

Though the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Dis­crim­ination’s final report on Cambod­ia’s performance under ICERD had not been released by press-time last night, a statement from the Human Rights Council summarized the committee’s final comments and recommendations.

“While welcoming efforts to adopt a wide range of legislation in areas such as asylum, access to land, access to education and the prohibition of racial discrimination, the Committee was concerned with the lack of uniform and faithful implementation and enforcement of those laws,” the statement read.

“Of particular concern in that regard was Cambodia’s decision to deport 20 ethnic Uighurs [in December] before concluding a refugee status determination pro­cess,” the statement added.

The summary went on to say that the committee was concerned that Cambodia’s “quest for economic growth and prosperity was pursued, in some ca­ses, to the detriment of particularly vulnerable communities such as indigenous peoples.”

The committee “was particularly concerned about reports of the rapid granting of concessions on land traditionally occupied by indigenous peoples without full consideration, or exhaustion of procedures provided for under the land law and relevant sub-decrees,” according to the IC­ERD summary.

The committee’s recommendations for Cambodia included: En­suring that a proper balance be­tween development and the rights of citizens is achieved, de­veloping measures to ensure indigenous peoples are protected against having their land given away in land concessions without consultation, and ensuring great­er efficiency of the judicial system to ensure equal access to justice for all, including minorities and indigenous peoples.

In a joint statement released yesterday evening, Cambodian NGOs lined up to voice their displeasure at the treatment of the country’s indigenous peoples.

“Donors and investors intending to support economic development in Cambodia should examine if their investments support equity, are appropriate to the local circumstances and need, and check if their activities to date are in respect of indigenous peoples’ rights,” said Sao Vansey, executive director of the In­digenous Com­munity Support organization.

Suon Sareth, executive secretary at the Cambodia Human Rights Action Committee, said indigenous peoples’ rights to their ancestral territories are being seriously abused.

“The situation is serious,” he said. “All stakeholders cannot ignore what is happening.”

Housing Rights Task Force Secretariat Director Sia Phearum said the rights of all Cambodians were tied to the rights of indigenous peoples.

“Indigenous peoples protect the natural resources responsible for the environmental stability of lowland areas in Cambodia,” he said. “If we allow ongoing abuse of indigenous peoples, it will affect us all.”

And in a separate open letter written to Prime Minister Hun Sen and other government officials, indigenous advocacy or­ganizations from 15 Asian countries ex­pressed “their utmost concern over the worsening situation of indigenous peoples of Cambodia.”

“Asia indigenous people have read the report prepared by civil society with regard to Cambod­ia’s respect of ICERD,” the letter states.

“We have also seen enough of the situation in Cambodia to know that there is a disaster looming…. The world needs to be made aware that another human and environmental rights abuse of international significance is underway in Cambodia.”


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