The United Nations criticised Cambodia’s government Wednesday August 8 for doing little to protect the land of indigenous people, whose livelihood has increasingly come under threat from land-grabbing by the rich and powerful.
The government needs to take swift action to halt land-grabbing in tribal areas, the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia said in a statement Wednesday August 8. The statement was released to mark the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on Thursday.
“There are continuing concerns about the protection of indigenous land. Of particular concern is the growing number of economic land concessions and mining licenses granted over indigenous land, without community consultation,” it said.
Members of the Tampoun ethnic minority in the remote northeastern province of Rattanakiri said Wednesday August 8 they were forced to bury their tribal chief at a new site after their ancestral graveyard was sold to a private owner, an action they feared could bring them bad luck.
The UN office noted that Cambodia’s land law passed in 2001 recognises the right of indigenous communities to collective ownership of their lands, which includes land reserved for shifting cultivation. But in the six-years since then, “not a single collective land title” had been issued to any indigenous community by the government, it said.
In recent years, land disputes have become frequent occurrences in Cambodia, usually pitting poor farmers against developers. Several people have been killed.
Yash Ghai, the UN secretary-general’s special representative for human rights in Cambodia, expressed deep concern about ethnic minority groups losing out on land to business allies of the government. “A wealthy and powerful social class has emerged on the back of the state through the exploitation of the people and the country’s resources, relying on access to, and accumulation through, the apparatus of the state,” he said in his report to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in June.
Instead of helping the indigenous people, “the government tilts in favour of business companies whenever their interests clash with the interests of rural or urban people,” he said. However, the government called his allegations unacceptable.
In the Rattanakiri case, the relatives of Bou Nuth, a 76-year-old tribal chief who died Sunday, were barred from burying his body in their ancestral graveyard, said Tev Mak, the deceased man’s nephew. Instead, they had to bury him about 1 kilometer away from their village, contrary to tradition that says the deceased must be buried near their home, he said.
Seng Thung, a village chief, said the old graveyard, covering about 10 acres, was sold to a senior provincial official in recent years by an unknown individual who had claimed ownership over the property. Sak Son, a provincial district deputy governor, dismissed the villagers’ claim the land was their ancestral graveyard, saying only that it belongs to a provincial official whom he declined to name.