||Asean Affairs 14 June 2013
Cambodian Grassroots People’s Assembly
The Cambodian Grassroots People’s Assembly (CGPA) is set to take place in Kampong Chhnang, on June 13 2013. The all-day event will take place at the Football court next to the Kampong Chhnang Provincial Office in Kampong Chhnang town. The CGPAs are organized by grassroots cross-sector network. It will provide politicians and others a chance to hear the issues faced by the communities and their demands that serve as recommendations for policy making process. Over 700 people are expected to attend the assembly on Thursday in Kg Chnang.
The issues faced across the Northern region of Cambodia include those related to land and economic land concessions, particularly the concession given to the PheapiMex company. Another important issue faced by fishery communities is the absence of local authority control over illegal fishing and illegal fishing lot, which endanger the peoples’ livelihood. The community also raised the need for accessible and equitable healthcare. Meanwhile, those who work at formal sector such as teachers, are underpaid and deprived from their basic rights as workers.
Pheapimex enjoys a privilege of ELC as the company is awarded a concession over 315,028 hectares of land, approximately 171,824 hectares in Kg.Chhnang and 143,204 hectares in Pursat province. Thousands of families in five districts in Kg. Chhnang and three districts in Pursat affected from their farmland and livelihood territory. The rapid conversion of forest and land into private property of companies and individuals cost people their livelihood. Most of Kg Chnang population livelihood depends on non-timber forest product. The Royal Government of Cambodia has not come up with significant policies to improve the situation despite the fact that the size of land given through ELC is unconstitutional. Communities in Kg. Chhnang and Pursat have borne the social cost of ELC since 2004. The Phnom Kuk community networks demand the cancellation of ELC. They demand the government to exercise social land concession for the people, and protection of the forests. “We want to reclaim our land,” said Pehn Ath, Representative from Phnom Kuk Network], “and protection of our forests. The ELC awarded to Pheapimex is larger than legally allowed and it compromised our livelihood.”
Communities around Tonle Sap Lake have been suffering due to the practice of large-scale illegal fishing using heavy and illegal instruments, which marginalizes small-scale fishermen. The practice of illegal fishing continues to happen despite the Prime Minister calling to end this practice. The communities question the role of local authority in protecting the small-scale fishermen. The communities demand for the rights to practice community patrol to guard the lake. They also demand RGC to take effective action to end the illegal fishing.
“Fishing has long been a traditional source of income for those who live around Tonle Sap Lake. Today our demand goes beyond the protection our livelihood. We also need to protect the lake and its substance for our lives. Illegal fishing does not simply impact those who earn their livelihood from the lake legitimately, but it also affects the people in the entire Kingdom whose livelihood sustainability depends on the fish from the lake,” said Sim Sopahna, representative of Tonle Sap Fishery Community. “Fish is a renewable resource, yet, the large scale of illegal fishing has disrupted the fish breeding and overall ecosystem that it takes long time to recover the fish stocks .”
Teachers across Northern Cambodia also face numerous issues such as low wages, the absence of freedom of association for civil servant and rights to collective bargaining. Thus, CICA fights for higher wages for all teachers, the rights to unionize and law to protect teachers rights to collective bargaining.
“Teachers shape the future generations. They are crafting Cambodia’s future, yet we undervalue them that we are throwing our future away, simply because we don’t want to provide teachers with a decent salary. In protecting teachers’ right to collective bargaining, we’re demonstrating to ourselves and our children the value of education. If the government is really committed to developing the nation, then it needs to be committed to teachers,” said Horm Kea Heng, representative from CICA.
The prominent role of private sectors and individual within the frame of economic land concession and illegal fishing has dispossessed people from their land and other means of livelihood. The case of Pheapimex investment shows the situation where the State, through its local authority and ELC policy, plays a role as an agent in facilitating the private sector. The ignorance of local authority on the practice of illegal fishing has raised a concern on the government commitment to protect the livelihood of people. ELC and other policies on trade and investment have compromised people livelihood and human rights.
CGPA organized in the Northern region involves Phnom Kuk Network, Tonle Sap Fisheries Network, Farmers Nature Network (FNN), the Independent Democracy for Informal Economic Association (IDEA), the Cambodian Independent Civil-Servant Association (CICA) and others. Each group will air their grievances and demands as well as recommend the solution to all issues to MP candidates and MPs invited to the assembly. The Cambodian Cross-Sector Network, the grassroots organizations, individuals, civil-society organizations and others participating in CGPA are committed to working with representatives of all political parties on concrete, sustainable and equitable action that benefits everyone in Cambodia. By holding these peaceful assemblies, those involved want to do more than educate but get the RGC to take concrete, sustainable and equitable action.