|Remote Cambodian communities stand up for land rights|
|Tuesday, 17 April 2012 09:45|
Bringing together local leaders and community members, Cord’s partner in Cambodia is helping indigenous people protect the land which is crucial to their survival.
Padal Village is in the remote north eastern province of Ratanakiri, which borders Laos in the north and Vietnam to the east. The majority of villagers are from the Jarai indigenous group who live in the traditional way - the whole community shares land and access to the life-sustaining forest, which they rely on for food.
The community is facing a major threat from a planned hydro-power dam on the Mekong River. It’s feared that if it goes ahead the dam will damage the already fragile ecology of the river. Communities downstream will suffer as fishing is a source of income for many. There have also been rumours about other companies wanting to buy their land.
For fear of land being taken anyway, some villagers have tried to sell, which has caused additional tensions within the community. Our partner, ‘Highlanders Association’, has helped educate villagers and elders about their rights to land and the importance of protecting natural resources.
“If we didn’t have common land and couldn’t use it in a traditional way, we would be lost,” says Padal village elder Glan Hen.
Thanks to support from Highland Association’s training, and in order to protect their land from outsiders, the village registered the land as communal in 2010. This will help them challenge companies attempting to take it in the future. To celebrate the successful registration they held a party and sacrificed a cow and a pig. People in Padal village agreed not to sell their land and everyone added their thumb print to a document, as a sign of agreement.
“Before, we were afraid of companies wanting our land - most people were afraid of talking out, especially because their income was low. People can now speak out about their rights to land and natural resources - they understand,” said village member Pus Hyung pictured above.
“Villagers are happy to participate and work with Highlanders Association, especially to register the community. Everyone agrees there were no problems or challenges,” said Commune Chief, Sau Suen.
The next step is land titling which will provide even more security for the village. With support from Highlanders Association, the villagers hope to receive land titling later this year.
Highlanders Association helps people learn about and exercise their rights to land and reduce conflicts within their community. Cord supports the Cambodian organisation by providing training and mentoring, helping them to manage their human rights and peacebuilding projects, and finances better.
Sambath, one of Cord’s Advisors, visits on a monthly basis. Cord has also supported training on climate change for Highlanders Association so that they can better research how this impacts remote communities.