Cambodian communities urge gov’t to ban selling state & indigenous lands

Since 2019; there has been some limited progresses towards stopping all forms of state public land sales by local authorities. Some of these lands are forest areas governed as indigenous community land, particularly in Northeastern provinces. The national government has instructed the local authorities not to approve any land sale in forest areas. On July 2020, the government has also ordered people living in the forest for a long time to register their lands. However, the actual enforcement of these instructions is still problematic.

This was a key conclusion of the 13th National Conference on Land and Natural Resources Governance organised on 27th October 2020 in Phnom Penh by The NGO Forum on Cambodia.  The annual conference aims to promote land tenure security, adequate housing, indigenous people’s rights and environmental and social impacts on communities. The event brings together government officials, civil society and community representatives to discuss and review the laws and policies related to land, housing, indigenous communities and natural resources, and their implementation. This year, 187 participants (38 women) from the National Assembly, government officials, NGOs, CSOs, private sector, community representatives, academics and media discussed about issues related to land and forest encroachment. Even though the issue has been raised for years, there has not been significant progress by lack of cooperation among state actors. 

Ms. Chhean Savary, a representative of Cheugleang community protected area, Kampong Chhnang Province stated during the conference that as a women who strives to protect the natural resources and also representative of the community, she hopes “Through the discussions in the three regional-level conferences, all stakeholders have acknowledged issues and discussed solutions at the local level, but there are some issues that require national-level discussions with the participation of the Royal Government’s ministries and institutions.”

The participants at the conference insisted that the government should allow a more direct involvement of the affected communities to resolve these issues. There should also be more transparency and the possibility for CSOs and the concerned public to participate in environmental impact assessments and legal framework revisions. Moreover, the recognition of customary land tenure was raised again with the need to effectively follow the principle of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) for local communities affected by state and private interventions in their territories.

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