Last Updated: Monday, 30 November 2015, 08:01 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - Cambodia

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 16 July 2009
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - Cambodia, 16 July 2009, available at: [accessed 30 November 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Cambodian People's Party further consolidated their power through national elections in July. The elections were criticized by the European Union and the UN Special Representative for human rights in Cambodia and Human Rights Watch labelled the election victory as part of a continued 'drift towards authoritarianism' in the country.

The overwhelming majority of Cambodia's 14 million people are ethnic Khmer, most of whom follow Theravada Buddhism. Minorities are made up of four distinct groups: Cham (most of whom are Muslims), indigenous 'hill tribes' (also known as Khmer Leou), ethnic Chinese and ethnic Vietnamese.

The issue of collective landownership, and loss of access to their traditional and agricultural lands, has been an ongoing and increasingly important one for the Khmer Leou, who continue to lose their land to illegal concessions awarded to foreign firms and government officials, and suffer forced relocation and economic and social losses.

Despite a 2001 Land Law and other regulatory measures to recognize the rights of these indigenous peoples, at the beginning of 2007, not a single indigenous people had received title for the collective ownership of their traditional lands. Mining and even tourism concessions by the government of Cambodia are given without regard for indigenous rights over the lands concerned.

The urban poor have also been adversely affected by illegal land concessions. The government, in collusion with private companies and the courts, has been evicting residents and selling off land, especially in Phnom Penh. According to rights groups, in 2008 some 150,000 Cambodians were known to live at risk of being forcibly evicted.

Most state schools in the areas where Khmer Leou are concentrated continue to teach exclusively in Khmer. This results in a much higher than average drop-out rate. A few schools teaching partially in local indigenous languages have started to operate on an experimental level; mainly this is through the efforts of local and international NGOs.

The Cambodian government is committed to 'ensure easy and equitable access to education for vulnerable and disadvantaged children'. As part of its Education for All by 2015 programme, the government is making efforts to introduce bilingual education in minority villages. Critics say these initiatives are designed to erode indigenous languages. Indigenous communities remain poorly served with regard to education, and there is a lack of easily accessible state schools in many parts of the northeast.

In December 2008 the Cambodian parliament passed draft legislation to provide for financing for two Chinese hydro dams in the Cardamon mountains. Environmentalists say the reservoir created by the dam will cover 110 sq km and displace thousands of Khmer Leou in nine villages.

Cambodia continues to violate its obligations under the UN Refugee Convention by forcibly returning Vietnamese Montagnards, or Degar, before they are able to apply for asylum. Riot police broke up a demonstration in July 2008 by around 60 Montagnard asylum-seekers in the capital, protesting the forced repatriation of 28 members of their community to Vietnam. During 2008 UNHCR provided shelter in Phnom Penh to approximately 500 Montagnard asylum seekers, including about 200 new arrivals. (See also Vietnam.)

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