Semantics Kerfuffle Delays New Policies To Protect Minorities

Non-governmental organizations have questioned why two new draft policies aimed at developing and protecting the country’s ethnic minorities took so long to come before the government for discussion, and why the provisions on indigenous land rights are still lacking.

The policies for indigenous minority populations were first drafted in June 2005 with the help of the UN Development Program but then underwent several revisions in terminology before they were discussed for approval by the Council of Min-

isters last week, according to a news statement.

According to a statement on the Council of Minister’s website, the development policy intends to empower and develop indigenous communities while preserving their identity and culture.

Ministry of Rural Development Secretary of State Sin Son, who was involved in developing the policies, said Tuesday that he expected both policies to be ap-

proved by the Council sometime this year.

Sin Son said the draft policies had been delayed due to a discussion at the Council level on the use of the term “ethnic” versus “indigenous” minority, but that the ministers eventually settled on “indigenous” minority.

Sin Son, however, was unable to explain the significance of the lengthy debate over words, as he said that his ministry was not involved in the terminology discussion.

In the last few years, land grabbing and ownership disputes have erupted in many etnic minority areas of Mon-

dolkiri, Ratanakkiri and Stung Treng province where villagers have complained of the grabbing of their ancestral lands by the rich and politically well-connected.

Sek Sophan, national project coordinator for indigenous min-

ority people for the International Labor Organization, said Mon-

day that the policies were “a good development,” but added it had taken very long before the subject was discussed at the Council of Ministers.

The land policy, he added, was “not comprehensive enough” and needed “more additional parts” particularly dealing with land registration.

According to Sek Sophan, the policies do not specify what pro-

cess would be put in place to register indigenous minority members’ land titles, and procedures to identify communal land would still be seriously insufficient.

Currently in Cambodia, there are only three ethnic minority communities registered, while an ILO project to help indigenous communities register their communal land with the Ministry of Interior has so far identified 133 communities in just Ratanakkiri and Mondolkiri provinces with communal land claims, Sek Sophan said.

Yeng Virak, director of the Community Legal Education Center, a legal NGO involved in advocating for indigenous minority rights, said he had not yet seen the drafts but added he hoped they would address the “many areas of concern over the rights of indigenous minorities.”

He also questioned why it had taken so many years before the policy was discussed at the Coun-

cil of Ministers.

Licadho President Kek Gal-

abru said that it was good that the government had “finally” taken up the subject of indigenous min-

ority’s development, but that “they should have done that a long time ago.”

Government spokesman and Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said the policies were a significant step in developing in-

digenous communities and protecting their rights.

“This is the first policy dealing with indigenous minorities,” he said, adding that for this reason it took some years to finalize the policies.

Khieu Kanharith said he was unfamiliar with the discussion on the terminology used in the drafts.



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