Indigenous Communities Prevent Land Encroachment in Communal Forest
Before the start of Civic Engagement Alliance in 2016, indigenous people from the villages of Kreh, Koy, Kancheung, Mas and Ta Ngach in Ratanakiri Province in Cambodia never worked together to have a bigger influence in cases that affected them all. They were not well connected due to the distance between the villages, and had little contacts with villages further away. This changed in the case against the activities of a powerful Cambodian land speculator, who promised the communities to invest in a new road.
Communities Defend Their Land
The land speculator illegally bought this state land from the villagers, who did not know the national law and their rights, bulldozers entered the area to clear the forest. The community forest is of crucial importance for the indigenous people in the villages. They live here, rely on it for their livelihoods and have their spiritual spaces here. Since then, communities tried to defend their land and forests but no or little progress had been made. Consequently, many inhabitants of the villages lost their trust and were demotivated in their struggle against these land grabbing activities.
In 2019, local partners in the Civic Engagement Alliance decided to make an effort to bring together the five villages to try to stop the bulldozing of over 400 hectares of land and the entering of 276 hectares of the communities’ forestry area. The cooperation between the five communities resulted in the joint submission of a complaint to the commune, district, and national government supported by the NGOs Equitable Cambodia, Cambodian Community Legal Education Center (CLEC), Cambodian Indigenous People Organization (CIPO) and Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFP). No response from official side has been given yet. The communities were also supported by the local partners to reach out to the media. This resulted in a news article on the Voice of Democracy news website, in which the community representatives call for the government to respect community land.
Partner Train Communities
The community interventions were strongly supported by Civic Engagement Alliance. Cambodian partners, CLEC and NTFP started to train key representatives of these five communities in their rights, the national law and in mobilizing the community members to jointly work on this case. The latter really inspired the communities to work together and submnit their case to the next level.
Subsequently, the trained representatives disseminated their obtained knowledge and skills to other members of their communities. CIPO and Equitable Cambodia supported the communities to submit complaint letters, and documented evidence of the land grabbing with a drone to indicate the exact scale and location of the land clearance. All together, these joint interventions resulted in an increased ambition of the communities in both working together as a community and in working together with the other communities.