Ethnic minorities and indigenous people policy and rights

Cambodia is known for its rich cultural diversity, including ethnic minorities and indigenous communities. As the country has developed, efforts have been made to recognize and protect these groups’ rights through policies and initiatives to promote inclusivity, preserve cultural heritage, and address issues such as land rights.

“An indigenous community is a group of people that resides in the territory of the Kingdom of Cambodia whose members manifest ethnic, social, cultural, and economic unity and who practice a traditional lifestyle, and who cultivate the lands and their possession according to customary rules of collective use,”– Article 23, Part 2: Immovable Property of Indigenous Communities of Land Law 2001.1

 

Ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples related policies and regulations in Cambodia. Credited by Open Development Cambodia, 2024. License under CC BY SA 4.0.

Cambodian Constitution 1993

The constitution recognizes the country’s multiethnic communities. Article 31 states that “Every Khmer citizen shall be equal before the law, enjoying the same rights, freedom and obligations regardless of race, color, sex, language, religious belief, political tendency, national origin, social status, wealth, or other status.” This constitutional framework lays the groundwork for policies that protect and advance the rights of ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples. The constitutional framework defines fundamental principles safeguarding individuals’ rights, encompassing non-discrimination, freedom of association, the entitlement to property ownership, the exercise of freedom of belief, and the provision of a legal remedy in instances of rights infringement.2

Land Law 2001

The Land Law and related legislation contain provisions addressing land tenure and rights, emphasizing securing land for indigenous communities. Ensuring equitable access to and ownership of land remains a critical component of policies protecting these communities’ livelihoods. It precisely defines indigenous peoples, protecting their rights to manage their land following the traditional customs, and establishes the parameters that define the concept of “communal land rights.” According to Article 25, indigenous land is the land where the community has located their residences and their traditional agricultural land including shifting cultivation which is acknowledged by the authorities. Article 26 says that the state can provide collective ownership to the communities; however, the community cannot dispose of the ownership to others.3

To support and provide details on the process for granting indigenous communal land titles, the government adopted the Policy on Registration and Right to Use Indigenous Communal Land in Cambodia, Sub-decree No. 83 on the Procedure of Indigenous Communal Land Registration, and the National Policy on Development of Indigenous Peoples.

Law on Forestry 2002

This law provides a comprehensive framework for forest management, harvesting, utilization, development, and conservation. Notably, it includes specific provisions governing the use of forests by indigenous peoples who have been registered under the applicable regulations.4

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 2007

Cambodia voted to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007. It is the most comprehensive international document outlining the rights of indigenous communities. It establishes minimum standards for recognizing, protecting, and promoting these rights, presenting a comprehensive framework encompassing both individual and collective rights. The declaration covers topics including cultural identity, education, health, employment, and language rights. The document prohibits discrimination and advocates for indigenous peoples’ full participation, if they so choose, in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the state. It protects their right to retain distinctiveness while pursuing development priorities.5

Law on Natural Protected Areas 2008

This law establishes a comprehensive framework for managing, conserving, and developing protected areas, with the principal goals of ensuring biodiversity management, conservation, and the sustainable use of natural resources within these designated regions. Chapter 6 outlines the parameters governing indigenous communities’ participation and access rights in protected areas.6

In 2022, the government introduced amendments to various laws, including the Law on Protected Areas. The current law recognizes and secures access to traditional uses, customs, beliefs, and religions of indigenous peoples residing within and adjacent to protected areas. It ensures their participation in decision-making regarding sustainable management and conservation of biodiversity. However, a proposed amendment removes specific references to indigenous peoples, replacing them with “local communities,” thereby potentially infringing on their rights outlined in the UNDRIP.7

National Policy on Development of Indigenous Peoples 2009

This policy complements the Land Law with the main goal of comprehensively protecting indigenous people’s rights, including recognizing their entitlement to collective ownership. The legislation outlines in detail the steps that indigenous communities must take to obtain collective land titles. Additionally, the policy aims to improve the quality of life for indigenous communities by reducing hunger and poverty and ensuring a minimum of nine years of formal education, along with vocational training, and healthcare services. It is also intended to protect and preserve their cultural heritage.8

Policy on Registration and Right to Use Indigenous Communal Land in Cambodia 2009

In 2009, the government issued a policy on registration and the right to use indigenous communal land to support indigenous communal land titling in Cambodia. This policy aims to register indigenous communal land to ensure land tenure, reduce poverty, promote national economic development, eliminate illegal forest clearing and land grabbing, and preserve the Kingdom of Cambodia’s cultural riches.9

Sub-decree No. 83 on the Procedure of Indigenous Communal Land Registration 2009

The government officially adopted a sub-decree outlining the procedural framework for registering indigenous communal land in 2009. This document precisely describes the various processes involved in obtaining a communal land title.10

Other related laws and regulations

Related to ethnic minorities and indigenous people policy and rights:

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