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State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 - Cambodia

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 28 June 2012
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 - Cambodia, 28 June 2012, available at: [accessed 24 May 2023]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

In 2011, four top former leaders of the Khmer Rouge faced proceedings in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), set up to try those charged with crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-9). The ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) under Prime Minister Hun Sen has been accused of interfering with the proceedings and the trials have been plagued by controversy. Bringing the leaders of the Khmer Rouge to justice will be an important step for the Cambodian judiciary to prove its effectiveness in addressing a grave historical wrong. It could also be significant for minorities, including the ethnic Vietnamese and Cham Muslims, whose persecution as part of the larger aims of the Khmer Rouge could in itself constitute genocide.

Civil society faced direct attacks, including new laws which were introduced or drafted during 2011, according to a report published by the Cambodia League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADO). These included an anti-corruption law, a draft trade union law, and a draft law on associations and NGOs. Individuals working to defend the rights of indigenous peoples continued to be threatened by the Cambodian government in 2011, in particular those combating land-grabbing by corrupt officials. By the end of the year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) estimated that at least 60 people were imprisoned or awaiting trial for protesting against forced evictions and land-grabbing.

The government continues to grant large economic land concessions (ELCs) for hydro-electric projects, mining and agricultural plantations. Land concessions are granted, often in an illegal way, over community land, and with no regard to national laws that require public consultations and environmental impact assessments, or laws that stipulate that state concessions cannot be granted in forested areas.

Prey Lang forest, home to Kuy indigenous people, who depend upon it for their sustenance and livelihoods, is a case in point. Peaceful community and civil society efforts to protect it have been curtailed by the authorities in a conflict that escalated throughout the year. Government officials have recognized this large primeval forest as an important area for conservation, but according to the Prey Lang Network, a local activist group, more than 40,000 hectares of the forest have been granted for rubber plantations, while 27 exploration licences and related concessions have been handed to mining companies. Logging continues although the government stopped granting logging concessions in 2002, and the creation of logging roads has taken an environmental toll as well as opening up the forest to new migrants.

According to the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), authorities detained over 100 peaceful protesters in August, many from the Kuy community, for distributing pamphlets about the issue; in December, local authorities filed complaints against members of CCHR on charges of 'incitement' for holding training seminars for locals. Soldiers hired by a mining company that has been illegally granted an ELC in Prey Lang have prevented Kuy women from gathering tree resin, according to a 2011 Amnesty International report.

Cambodia does have laws that recognize and protect indigenous peoples' access to land. But they are often not implemented, or are flagrantly violated. Those who defend their legal rights risk intimidation, violence and imprisonment. Despite some actions, Prime Minister Hun Sen appears unwilling to seriously address these issues.

Indigenous peoples and Cham Muslims are recognized under Cambodia's Constitution, but other ethnic minorities, such as ethnic Vietnamese and Khmer Krom, are denied citizenship, are therefore unable to access health care and education, and endure social discrimination. Lack of citizenship combined with endemic poverty makes ethnic Vietnamese women vulnerable to trafficking, mostly within Cambodia, and forced prostitution. 'One third of girls and young women of Vietnamese origin are reported to be sold into prostitution,' according to a 2011 report by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

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