Law Requires Protection of Indigenous Cultures, Officials Say

Government officials yesterday called for the protection of Cambodian traditions, including endangered minority cultures, under a legally binding international convention.

Samraing Kamsan, secretary of state at the Culture Ministry, said the government “would like the public, especially the youth and indigenous people, to promote the diversity of cultural expressions, which are necessary elements in society for us to live together in peace.”

The cultures of indigenous people in Cambodia remain seriously at risk, said attendees at a workshop co-organized by the Ministry and Unesco in Phnom Penh.

The 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, ratified by Cambodia in 2007, safeguards traditional practices and goods.

Hab Touch, director-general at the ministry, said urgent action was needed to preserve minority cultures facing problems due to globalization and development.

The ministry is holding three workshops for communities in Ratanakkiri, Mondolkiri, Preah Vihear and Kompong Thom provinces next month to get direction on how to preserve cultures there, Mr Touch said.

“We don’t go and tell them you should do this. We want to hear from them more,” he said. “We want to understand them more.”

John Lowrie, general coordinator at the NGO Nomad RSI, which works in Mondolkiri, said that the Banong and other indigenous cultures were very endangered because of their communities’ alienation from their land and the ways of life associated with it.

Increased outside access and modernization are further eroding traditions, which often face prejudice from Khmer people, Mr Lowrie said. “They are going to become a minority in their own province very soon,” he said.

Ferdinand Richard, a Unesco expert on the 2005 convention, said that the relatively new convention, which has not yet been applied yet, was a legal commitment.

“For some minorities, if they consider that they own culture is in danger by some initiatives from the government, they can actually use this text to say that you ratified the 2005 convention so you cannot put our culture in danger,” Mr Richard said.


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