Kreung Ethnicity: Documentation Of Customary Rules - Indigenous People In Kameng Village, Peoy Commune, O’Chum District, Rattanakiri Province

Indigenous people in Cambodia live in remote areas and highlands of the country, particularly in the northeast provinces of Rattanakiri and Mondulkiri. These provinces, situated far from the capital Phnom Penh, are rich in natural resources. Economic development and increased migration from the Cambodian lowlands to these areas has impacted on the traditional land security and natural resource management of indigenous populations. Detrimental large-scale activities include illegal logging, land concessions and land encroachment. People in these remote provinces lack access to key public services such as education, health and communication infrastructure. Such important factors contribute to the lack of knowledge and limited capacity of indigenous people to deal with the multitude of challenges facing them today.

Indigenous communities maintain their own traditional mechanisms, rules and practices in solving a wide range of disputes and conflicts. These include community disputes between neighbours, domestic strife between couples, land and farming disputes, physical abuse and injury and accusations of sorcery and curses. Traditionally village elders, based on customary rules and traditional beliefs held by the community, have solved many of these disputes. However, such customary rules are not recognised by local government authorities and formal justice operators.

From 2006 to 2010 UNDP in Cambodia implemented the Access to Justice Project, which piloted different alternative dispute resolution mechanisms in Cambodia, with women, indigenous people and land issues being focal areas for the interventions. In terms of working with indigenous people, the project has focused on enhancing and legitimising customary dispute resolution mechanisms, promoting the awareness of rights and regulations related to land ownership, improving the dissemination of legal and judicial information, increasing recognition of the rights of indigenous people to communal lands and supporting the application of their customary rules and decision-making processes.

In 2006, the project conducted a case study on ‘Indigenous Traditional Legal Systems and Conflict Resolution in Rattanakiri and Mondulkiri Provinces1, which found that traditional dispute resolution mechanisms play an important role in solving conflict within indigenous communities. One of the recommendations was to support an ongoing process of consultation, research and documentation with Indigenous Peoples’ communities, with the ultimate goal of building agreement on how traditional systems can be best recognised by the formal system and how the interface between the two could function. As a result, the project has assisted six indigenous communities to compile their customary rules to assist in recommending to the government to acknowledge Indigenous Peoples’ traditional dispute resolution mechanisms and customary rules. This set of six books is the product of this work and an analysis as to what extent each of these rules complies with fundamental international or national human rights norms will follow. It is hoped that this will provide indigenous organisations and networks with a strong basis with which to advocate for the recognition of traditional rules and practices that are specific to community needs and that do not contradict national or international norms. At the same time, indigenous people will be strongly encouraged to abandon those rules that seriously contradict fundamental human rights norms or which affect public order or national security.

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