Cambodia: Communal land titles awarded, but indigenous land remains under threat
The Cambodian government has issued communal land titles to three indigenous communities--the first of their kind in the country.
The government awarded the land titles this month to two villages in Ratanakkiri province in Cambodia's remote northeast. A third village in eastern Mondulkiri province will be given a communal land title in January. Together, the titles comprise a total area of almost 3,800 hectares and involve 329 families, according to officials. Different indigenous groups live in the villages, including members of the Kreung, Tumpoun and Bunong communities.
It's been a decade since Cambodia enacted a national law covering land management, which allows indigenous communities to register their ancestral lands under communal titles. But in the years since the law was passed, areas populated by indigenous people in Cambodia have increasingly come under threat from deforestation, mining and agricultural businesses implemented through often controversial government land concessions.
In a statement, the United Nations' Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called the move a "landmark achievement".
"This initiative will provide the impetus for other indigenous communities across the country to reaffirm their cultural integrity and take steps toward preserving their ancestral land and resource," a statement released by OHCHR read.
However, the size of these three initial communal land titles is miniscule in comparison to the amount of land the government has awarded to private companies through concessions.
According to an October 2011 report released by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), for example, one company controls more than 7,000 hectares of land in a single commune in Mondulkiri province.
The report suggested indigenous peoples' rights to collective ownership were respected on paper, but not in practice. The reports' researchers said local, provincial and national authorities appeared not to understand or recognise indigenous peoples' rights--some villagers told report researchers they had been instructed not to even use the term "community."
"While the legislation protecting indigenous peoples' rights to collective ownership exists, indigenous families... face numerous political, administrative and procedural obstacles in securing their right to collective ownership," the report stated.
PHOTO: A rubber plantation in Cambodia's Ratanakkiri province. (CREDIT: William Lee-Wright/CREATIVE COMMONS)