Land Rights Mean Social Justice for Cambodia´s Indigenous Peoples, ILO
RATANAKIRI PROVINCE, Cambodia -- February 20 is World Day for Social Justice, focusing attention on the necessity for economic growth to promote equity and social justice, and that “a society for all” must be based on social justice and respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms. In Cambodia new legislation is helping some indigenous peoples achieve some of these rights and build a more secure future.
Galvin, Communication and Advocacy Officer, ILO Cambodia
2012 started well for Moch Ten, Chief
of the Tumpoun indigenous people in La L’eun Kraen Village. “We are very happy”
In December 2011, the
Tumpoun people he leads in Ratanakiri Province became one of the first three
such communities in Cambodia receive land titles for their territory, under a
pilot scheme initiated by the Cambodian Government. The 700 hectares of
farmland shared amongst 130 Tumpoun families is now secure and one of the
country’s most marginalized groups is now looking forward to a new era of
social justice by being given the means to shape their own future.
means that our land can be kept for the future. It means that our natural
resources and our livelihoods are secure”, explains the Chief. “Many things
would happen if we had not received this land title, such as encroachment by
Khmer people or by private companies”.
For the Tumpoun, and
other indigenous peoples, land titles mean more than just the possession of
property. Indigenous communities make up around 3 per cent of Cambodia’s
population and are among the most vulnerable groups in Cambodian society. Land
is of a unique importance to their way of life and identity, yet in recent
years indigenous people have increasingly come under threat from deforestation,
mining and agricultural businesses implemented through (often controversial)
government land concessions. Without recognition that the land is theirs to
cultivate, it would be impossible for them to lift themselves out of poverty
and take an equal stake in society.
The importance of the
link between social justice, and economic and social protection has been
highlighted by the ILO’s Director-General, Juan Somavia. “The plight of so many
indigenous and tribal peoples is a reminder of the urgent need for a new era of
social justice with patterns of growth that serve all peoples,” he said, in a
message for International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples in August 2011.
The Tumpoun are among
more than 100 indigenous communities in Cambodia who fought the difficult and
lengthy battle to secure the titles to their often resource-rich territory.
“The process took a long time,” Chief Moch Ten said. “The other challenge is
that we are illiterate. But we got help, especially from the ILO and the Land
Department and also the Provincial Department. ILO assisted us a lot in
building the capacity of our communities and in preparing administration
papers, budgeting and just encouraging us and providing solidarity”.
The land title issue
was just one of the key areas where the ILO’s Support to Indigenous Peoples
Project (ILO-ITP) has assisted indigenous groups. Through the project the
groups lean about their rights and the procedures for getting land titles. They
also received help with translating government documents related to land
titling from Khmer into their local languages (verbally due to their
illiteracy) and helping the village chiefs submit information.
Funded by the Danish
Agency for International Development (DANIDA) and in operation since 2005, the
Project’s main activities have focused on promoting and facilitating the
registration of indigenous communities’ land rights within the framework of
Cambodia’s 2001 land law. Work has focused on three provinces with the highest
population of indigenous peoples: Ratanakiri, Mondulkiri and Preah Vihear. It
includes training on the rights of the indigenous for communities and capacity
building for stakeholders. With the assistance of ILO, NGOs and others, several
other communities are taking steps to preserving their ancestral land and
resources, and more applications for land titles are expected to be made.
“The Government has
been a key partner in this work. However, together we have a great deal more to
accomplish” said Sek Sophorn, National Coordinator of the ILO-ITP Project.
“Although the Government is a signatory to tools in protecting the rights of
indigenous peoples, it has yet to ratify the ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples
Convention, (No. 169, 1989), which recognizes the value of indigenous and
tribal peoples’ specific knowledge and skills for self-determined development
- International Labour Office
Published by: Magne Ove Varsi