While Cambodia enjoys relative stability and is one of the prominent countries in the region, political life is tightly controlled under the premiership of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power since 1985. The main opposition party has been banned, with one leader in exile and another accused of trying to overthrow the government. Local organisations, community leaders, independent media and human rights defenders are viewed as a threat. They face violence, arrest and intimidation. Online activities are also being restricted by increased surveillance and censorship. This infringes on people’s rights to freedom of speech and privacy.
Cambodia boasts large areas of untouched forest, abundant in natural resources and biodiversity. However, because authorities can make huge profits, the land is being sold off to investors and the country has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world. Since 2001, Cambodia has lost around 24 percent of its tree cover. The forests have been home to Indigenous people who have protected it for generations. Now they find themselves at the centre of disputes and legal battles for ownership of their ancestral land.
Within the country women remain hugely underrepresented. The conservative culture is male led. Women are viewed as submissive. Their skills are valued below those of men. Parents do not encourage their daughters to get a higher education as they see their role as caring for children and looking after the home. Despite this, change is happening, particularly among young people. There is increasing evidence of women organising themselves to protect forests and campaign for equal rights. However, they face the double challenge of powerful companies and political will, in addition to gender stereotypes and cultural traditions.
How we’re responding
Educating on rights
We and our partners have been working with Indigenous communities and human rights defenders to increase their knowledge of the law and their rights. We’ve trained them in advocacy and how to communicate effectively with powerholders to ensure those rights are respected. This includes how to use digital tools safely to capture evidence of land grabbing.
Securing land titles
Through our projects we’ve seen over 400 families secure land titles for where they live. Community forestry committees have been strengthened. More and more women and young people are starting to get involved as they see that they have a role to play in protecting their homes and livelihoods.
Supporting women rights defenders
Cord has worked with over 100 women human rights defenders since 2015, strengthening them in peacebuilding, leadership and non-violent advocacy. Cord is also working with organisations and networks to improve gender mainstreaming, creating a safe and enabling environment for women’s voices to be heard.
Keeping people safe
Human rights and healthy democracy depend on the freedoms of association, assembly, and expression. Without these rights Cambodian citizens are unable to bring about societal change or hold duty-bearers’ violators to account. Cord is training human rights organisations and activists to navigate this difficult landscape. We are helping them to carry out their vital work whilst staying safe, online and offline.
Hope on the horizon
Thousands of families around the world face the threat of losing their land, and with it, their homes and means to survive. But hope is uniting these poor communities; they are rising up against injustice. And you can stand shoulder to shoulder with them.