Development and Peace is helping Indigenous communities to organize so that they can form a united voice in having their rights and recognized. These communities also experience extreme poverty and we are supporting them in developing economic activities that are sustainable and respect the environment.
Empowering women is also an important component of our program. Our local partners are engaging men on equality between men and women, encouraging women to take on leadership roles, including in politics, and raising awareness amongst youth on women’s rights. Their work reached more than 9,000 people in Battambang and Siem Reap provinces.
Democracy and citizen participation
Equality between women and men
Cambodia is still emerging from the dark shadow of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime of the late 1970s and occupation by Vietnam, which ended with a peace agreement signed in 1991. In the ensuing years, it has struggled in transitioning towards democratic practices and political stability. Current Prime Minister Hu Sen has been in power since 1998 is increasingly using his clout to curtail political opposition and to repress civil society and trade unions so he can remain in power.
Cambodia has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world. Clearcutting for illegal logging or to make way for plantations is destroying the country’s ancient forests at an alarming rate and is leading to violent landgrabs. This is disproportionately affecting Indigenous communities, whose collective land rights are not recognized and who face extensive discrimination.
A recent study by the National Institute of Statistics and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs confirmed that violence against women is one of the most pervasive human rights violations in the country. Women’s rights are limited by social practices, such as Chbab Srey, which is a code of conduct for women that encourages obedience and submissiveness.
In June 2016, eight Development and Peace members from Eastern Québec will be travelling to Cambodia with their regional animators for 20 days. They will be visiting the regions of Phnom Phen, Kampot, Siem Reap, Battambang and Ratanakiri.
Cambodia has been marked by repeated violence in recent weeks. The country is facing a serious political crisis, its social climate is deteriorating, and increasing military repression has caused the death of peaceful protesters.
The Phnong indigenous community in the Cambodian village of Gati has long lived in insecurity. As an ethnic minority, Phnong community members have few rights, and live in fear of being pushed off their land and losing their traditional way of life.
Indigenous communities are often the last to have ownership of their ancestral land recognized, despite being the first to live on that land. Cambodia’s indigenous communities understand this reality all too well.
Several groups in Cambodia have mobilized to condemn the use of armed force against citizens who are speaking out in defense of their rights. In the last few weeks, a series of troubling events have led to this mass mobilization, including the arrest and mistreatment of 13 women who participated in a peaceful protest against land evictions.
Development and Peace partner NGO Forum in Cambodia is working to defend the land rights of Indigenous communities in the country.
I recently had the privilege, along with some of my other colleagues, to pass an hour in the company of the Venerable Sovath, a Cambodian monk who is making himself heard by the authorities in his country.