ILC members in Cambodia convene together as a platform known as the Land and Housing Rights Network (LAHRIN). The platform comprises not just ILC members but also grassroots organisations, indigenous rights groups, and other civil society organisations. All members of LAHRIN work towards one goal: creating a safe space for local communities and indigenous peoples to strive for people-centred land governance.
We recently talked to Sophea Pheap, Facilitator of the National Land Coalition (NLC) in Cambodia and a staff member of ILC Asia member organisation, the NGO Forum (NGOF). NGOF is also a network of local and national-based non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that directly work with local communities on the ground.
Striving for change at the national level
As ILC enters the new year, a new vision of people-centred land governance has come to life for members of ILC in Cambodia. Customary tenure remains an issue of utmost priority, as the number of indigenous communities in the country is at risk of losing their land, forests and other natural resources that serve as their source of livelihood due to development projects implemented by the private sector and granted by the government.
The NGO Forum (NGOF) is a network-based organisation working on land and natural resource management for sustainable, equitable and inclusive development in Cambodia. NGOF is also part of ILC’s National Land Coalition (NLC) in Cambodia, a multi-stakeholder platform working to push through people-centred land governance law and reform in the country.
Sophea remarks that resource mapping and land use planning are among the priorities that NLC Cambodia seeks to achieve in its capacity-building efforts with local communities.
Another priority in the pipeline of NLC Cambodia’s yearly objectives is to support the communal land title registration process of indigenous communities in the country. The Government of Cambodia is expected to issue a decree to expedite the registration of degraded forest areas for individuals, particularly for marginalised communities living in the forests. LAHRIN will monitor such activities to ensure that transparency and consistency are maintained.
As NLC Cambodia roots its strategy and work plan on multi-stakeholder partnerships, the platform seeks to engage with the private sector to ensure that its operations comply with the principles of forest management that will benefit both the local communities and the corporations themselves.
This includes working with communities living in coastal areas, like the fisherfolk, as they are vulnerable to government-supported development projects. They are often excluded from the initial phasing of such projects and oftentimes they hear it only when their land and territories are going to be disrupted.
But it is not always an easy road ahead. “We find some challenges because we are working as a membership-driven platform. Our NGO members and the communities have a limited understanding of customary tenure and good practices to respond to investment projects [by the government],” said Sophea.
He also remarked that there is limited access to information by the government when it comes to such projects. “We do not see any documents or information related to development projects on the government website, especially on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and how the companies or the government will monitor its implementation.”
A vision of people-centred land governance
When asked what a collective vision of people-centred land governance in Cambodia would look like, Sophea remarked that sustaining a multi-stakeholder partnership between government bodies, the private sector, civil society, and local communities was the ultimate recipe.
In an ideal world, land rights for the people would be achieved if civil society organisations supported indigenous communities on a daily basis, and heard the concerns of people from any background like women, disabled communities, and young people. Together they would develop a joint plan and strategy to achieve a better future.