Cambodia: forum seeks ways to address marginalization of indigenous peoples
Government officials and representatives of several UN agencies have met to discuss issues concerning Cambodia's indigenous people, calling for greater attention to preserve cultural value of the indigenous groups and improve their economic status so as to reduce inequities between them and the majority of the country's population.
The pursuit of socio-economic development that is inclusive can help minimize threat to the way of life of the indigenous people, who are considered to be among the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in Cambodia. The message was at the centre of the national dialogue on “Promotion of Indigenous People's Culture and Economic Situation Through the Implementation of the National Programme for Sub-National Democratic Development (NCDD)” that was held in Mondulkiri province on 8-9 September.
H.E. Sak Setha, Secretary of State of Ministry of Interior and Chairman of the NCDD’s Secretariat, in his opening speech, said tackling poverty of the rural residents, including the indigenous people, and ensuring their proactive involvement in local decision-making process are priority on the agenda of the government’s sub-national democratic development reform.
H.E. Sak Setha, who presided over the workshop, said that the reform is aimed at creating a sub-national administration that works accountably, transparently and equitably to promote local development to contribute to reducing poverty of the rural population.
He called on sub-national administration to pay more attention to the concerns and address the needs of the indigenous communities within each administrative jurisdiction.
“More importantly, promoting local governance by encouraging openness, transparency and unity in dialogue to address local issues is the focus of the national programme” for sub-national democratic development, H.E. Sak Setha said.
The indigenous people make up about 1.4 percent of Cambodia's 13.4 million people. They live mostly in the country's northeastern provinces and, in general, are more economically worst off than their majority Khmer ethnic group. According to the Cambodia Human Development Report 2011 that was released last month, the human development index in the northeastern provinces is in the average of 0.375 to 0.495, which is lower than the national average of 0.7. Bound together by their communal lifestyle, the indigenous people traditionally depend on forest to extract non-timber products for livelihoods, but in many parts of their communities their way of life has come under increased pressure from rapid pace of development.
In her remarks, Elena Tischenko, country director of UNDP Cambodia, said inclusion of indigenous people in economic diversification would help protect their unique livelihoods and culture.
"By helping them to actively participate, contribute to and benefit from country’s development, the national programmes, and the Sub-National Democratic Development in particular, could reduce disparities while making sure that unique indigenous traditions, identity and ways of life contribute significantly to Cambodia’s ethnic diversity and values, as well as economic growth," Ms. Tischenko said.
“But inclusive development processes are not possible without empowerment of local communities and protecting their rights to determine their fate. As the UN Secretary-General stressed in his statement on the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People on August 9, we have our shared commitment to reaffirm the rights of indigenous people and advance the values of equity, justice and dignity for all,” she said.
More than 100 people took part in the two-day forum, including representatives of commune councils, indigenous communities, civil society organizations, and relevant government’s ministries. In the workshop, several indigenous people appealed for more attention to the concerns their communities have about impacts of economic development on their tradition and way of live.
Mr. Oum Mech and Mrs. Vein Samin, representatives of the indigenous community, requested that the Royal Government of Cambodia consider and consult with sub-national administration, particularly with indigenous community, before approving any economic land concession in the areas where indigenous people are living.
The NCDD’s Secretariat hosted the forum in collaboration with the Creative Industries Support Programme (CISP), a development initiative funded by the UN-Spain Millennium Development Goals Achievement Fund. The CISP’s aim is to help preserve tangible and intangible cultural assets of the indigenous people while introducing trade-related skills to enable them to expand market access to sell their handicraft products to earn income to improve their livelihoods. The CISP is jointly implemented by four UN agencies – FAO, ILO, UNDP and UNESCO – working in partnership with the Ministry of Culture and Fine Art, Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Industry Mine and Energy, and Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries.
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