Monday, 10 August 2020 marked an important day for indigenous communities from Busra commune in Cambodia as they signed an agreement with the rubber company Socfin Cambodia to settle a long-lasting dispute about their communal and spiritual lands.
An official ceremony was held at the Pichreada district hall in Mondulkiri province. The representatives from three villages, Pu Char, Pu Lu and Pu Teut, and from the company signed an agreement concerning more than 500 hectares of land. The ceremony was attended by representatives from the district officials, as well as MRLG and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) who have been supporting the process.
Beyond the official agreement, the parties appreciated the mutual respect and trust built through the process and have confidence in future cooperation.
“Today, I am very happy to sign the agreement on communal land as a result of our past advocacy work. Although we have not used this the reserve land yet, we look forward to registering our communal land with the Royal Government of Cambodia for us and our next generation to use,” said Ms. Khleok Keosingieb, Pu Char community representative. “We have a strong hope that, in the future, the community and company can work closely for the development of the communities, particularly we will work together for the communal land registration” she continued.
The conflict between Socfin Cambodia and the local communities in Busra dates back to 2007-08 when the government allocated two Economic Land Concessions (ELC) to the company for a rubber plantation while the local indigenous communities lost their lands and were affected in multiple ways by the investment. After years of attempts to compensate the villagers and address their grievances, the company and five communities agreed in 2016 to use a mediation process to discuss the remaining issues in a systematic manner.
“The signing of these agreements between the community and company representatives today highlights the importance of conflict mediation and builds the relationship between the parties.” Mr. Vanna Mab, Deputy District Governor of Pichreada district stated.
These first agreements about communal lands are the result of the mediation process facilitated by the Independent Mediation Group (IMG) and NGO Forum on Cambodia and supported by MRLG and OHCHR. The mediation is a voluntary collaborative process where the parties in a conflict meet together with the help of an independent mediator in order to discuss the issues, develop options, consider alternatives, and negotiate a consensual agreement or settlement. Further negotiation and agreements are expected as the mediation is continuing until the end of this year.
“We are happy to be here today for the signing ceremony. We believe that this mediation project can be an example to help other indigenous communities in Cambodia and outside the country, but also for companies, communities and other stakeholders facing the same challenges. For us, the process does not end today but we see this milestone as a foundation for the communal land titling process and we will support the communities as much as we can in this next step.” Mr. Jef Boedt, Socfin Cambodia General Manager said with determination.
 More information about this conflict can be found in the study recently published by MRLG and the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) including recommendations to enhance the management and inclusiveness of Economic Land Concessions