NGOs Call for Indigenous Rights to Be Protected

The government must enforce laws protecting the land rights of indigenous people and do more to protect community forest areas, the NGO Forum on Cambodia said in a statement released to coincide with the 19th International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, which falls today.

In its statement, the umbrella NGO group said that Cambodia’s 24 indigenous groups, which make up 1.2 percent of the population, are particularly vulnerable to economic exploitation of their farmland and sacred land.

“Their livelihoods have become endangered by unchecked development as hydropower, mining developments and the impact of economic land concessions strip the forests and destroy their capacity to extract a living from the land,” the statement reads.

Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of NGO Forum, said that more needed to be done to ensure that the rights of indigenous groups are respected.

“Their livelihoods depend completely on access to natural re­sources and forests,” he said.

“Yet their ability to achieve land title and economic security is increasingly being undermined. We must all work together to ensure their rights are protected.”

The NGOs are calling on the government to speed up the process of handing out communal land titles, as well as the recognition of community forestry and protected areas.

Only seven communal titles have been given out since the first was granted in 2011.

“An information campaign needs to be undertaken with indigenous communities so they understand the implications of titling, and how to protect their land against unauthorized development,” NGO Forum’s statement says, adding that economic land concessions continue to be granted on indigenous land without fair compensation.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the government has been putting efforts toward speeding up the titling process.

“The government appreciates the issues [the NGOs] raise, but the government has been doing more,” he said.

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