I met somebody who was involved in the drafting of a “General Policy for Highland Peoples Development(1997), which is however not in force. Its first paragraph starts with the following sentence: “The Kingdom of Cambodia is a multi-ethnic society and forms a unity of cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity. The Royal Government of Cambodia shall promote understanding and respect of cultural diversity and ensure that Highland Peoples can practice their own cultures, which are recognized by the Cambodia national society, based on the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia.” The rest of this document appears to be written in the same spirit.
The drafting and associated research was supported by UNDP, ADB and World Bank (WB). However, this support came from outside Cambodia and was very punctual.
There appears to be no organizational continuity on these issues in Cambodia, to say the best. The research started with tables provided by the Ministry of Religion. Since then the numbers keep changing. Census data is provided by the Ministry of Planning. However, population figures about “Highland People” are everything but consisting and dramatically decreasing up to the last census in 1997. Other data is derived from provincial governments and documents from police commissions.
There were objections to the policy by several ministries, most prominently Chapter 3.6 which they want to replace. The wording of this paragraph in the initial draft is as follows: “Further complete or partial deforestation or other forest exploitation in areas inhabited or used by Highland Peoples shall be forbidden unless such forest use permits continued, sustainable traditional agriculture and forest use of Highland Peoples. In no case should such exploitation be permitted without the full and informed participation and consent of the affected Highland Peoples themselves. All exploitation should be submitted to sustainable forest management, including replanting, using of sustainable indigenous species and ensuring minimal impact on the biological diversity of the area. The Government of Cambodia shall adopt general forest management policies which require exploitation to be limited to legally designated exploitation forests, which are not currently or traditionally inhabited or used by Highland Peoples, where sustainable management would be required, and where plans for exploitation would be subject to social, cultural and environmental impact assessment and open to public examination and review.”
The policy in question is designed to target the four provinces in which indigenous peoples life: Ratanakiri, Kratie, Steung Treng, and Mondul Kiri. The policy does not refer to ‘ethnic groups’, but to ‘highland peoples’ or Khmer Leu.
The legislative process of this policy came to a halt mainly because laws concerning land and forest where not appropriately clear. However, specific laws are in force today.
Given that many government organizations are busy right now because of the upcoming election, it appears likely that this policy will be reintroduced into the legislative process with support by the forenamed influential organizations. Furthermore, WB’s potentially tough (this remains to be seen) Operational Directive on indigenous peoples together with the pending WB (IDA) commitment of about 23 Mill. US$ project costs seems to make this a truly delicate affair.
With regard to my travel plans I learned that there are many organizations in Rattanakiri to assist indigenous peoples. However, to see their lifestyles it is better to go to Mondul Kiri, where people are more easily accessible, tent to be poorer and without assistance.