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Indigenous People In Cambodia

March 17, 2010 Indigenous People

Cambodia in Asia

Cambodia’s recent history of genocide, war, massive migration, and forced resettlement has led to a situation where reliable demographic and ethnographic information is not available. The 1998 Cambodian Population Census identified 17 different indigenous groups based on spoken language. The census estimated the indigenous population at about 101,000 people or 0.9 percent of the then total population of 11.4 million. Empirical research, however, suggests that the figure is most likely underestimated and could be as high as 160,000 people or 1.5 percent of Cambodia’s population.

Indigenous peoples in Cambodia are part of a larger indigenous cultural area that extends beyond Cambodian borders. Belonging to two distinct linguistic families, the main groups are the Austronesian speaking Jarai and the Mon-Khmer speaking Brao, Kreung, Tampuan, Bunong and Kui. Two thirds of the indigenous populations are found in the north-eastern provinces of Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri, forming the majority of the population in both provinces. Information obtained from indigenous peoples’ representatives and key informants show that indigenous peoples moreover reside in 13 other provinces (see map 2). Source: Indigenous People in Cambodia, NGO Forum of Cambodia 2006.

Indigenous people in Cambodia traditionally live by cultivating forest covered areas, a technique best known as shifting agricultural practiced all over the world by indigenous people living in tropical areas.

Their main social unit is the village community. A council of elders, chosen among the wisest and more experienced men and women of the village, help the community to make decisions, solve disputes and conflicts, maintain peace and solidarity among members, and develop strategies for community wellbeing. Indigenous customary laws represent a traditional legal system that is not yet recognized or acknowledged by mainstream law.

Throughout history, indigenous people living in Cambodia have undergone periods of crisis and extreme hardship. In many cases this was the results of events affecting the whole Cambodian nation, while in some other cases they were specifically targeted.

Recently, indigenous territories have been targeted by a large scale process of land expropriation and natural resource exploitation. Logging, mining, and corporate agriculture threatens the livelihood and survival of indigenous communities in Ratanakiri and Modulkiri provinces.

However, “The Cambodian Land Law of 2001 grants collective land ownership rights to indigenous communities. This offers a unique chance for indigenous peoples in Cambodia to exercise their right to self-determined development. Alienation of land and forest from indigenous communities has become the major threat to local livelihoods and traditional knowledge. It is destroying the local community landscape. Continued support and the involvement of the international community are needed to safeguard the rights of Cambodia’s indigenous peoples, including recognition of their traditional livelihoods and the registration of their communal lands.” Indigenous People in Cambodia, NGO Forum of Cambodia 2006.