Statement: Authorities’ Obstrution of Grassroots Activism Hurts Prey Lang Conservation

Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)

Statement

February 25, 2020 – We, the undersigned, are outraged and appalled at the restrictions placed on hundreds of community members, monks and environmental activists who were prevented by authorities from entering parts of Prey Lang protected area over the weekend. The Ministry of Environment’s use of masked armed rangers to prevent members of the Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN) from conducting an annual tree-blessing ceremony in the forest is an indefensible restriction on the community’s freedom of movement and harms conservation efforts in the forest.

The PLCN has proved itself to be the most effective and courageous advocate and monitor of the Prey Lang forest over the past 20 years. The group is made up of community members whose lives and livelihoods are intertwined with the forest, and they require unhindered access to the area in order to protect it. Despite the community group taking the courteous step of informing authorities of the intent to hold an annual ceremony inside the forest, officials from the Ministry of Environment blocked members from entering the forest without providing proper legal justification.

β€œIn the past, we were able to enter the forest freely to do our activities and protect the forest,” said Houen Sopheap, PLCN representative in Kampong Thom province. β€œBut recently it has become harder and harder, and the ministry has placed more restrictions on our actions.”

The Ministry of Environment wrote in a Facebook post after denying community members entry that Article 11 of the Protected Areas Law prohibits any person’s entry into the protected area without permission. Article 11 refers to areas that have been zoned, and only the most protected of the four zones – the β€œcore zone” – requires permission from the ministry prior to entry. But, years after its designation in 2016, none of the Prey Lang protected area has been zoned, despite zoning being encouraged by conservation groups due to its added protection against deforestation.

This grassroots community network must be allowed to conduct its conservation activities free from harassment and intimidation, Am Sam Ath, Deputy Director of Monitoring at LICADHO

The ministry’s post also referred to the Law on Associations and NGOs (LANGO), validating the exact concerns raised by more than 100 communities and civil society groups earlier this month in a statement urging the government to repeal the law in its entirety due to it being overly broad and subject to abuse. Despite past assurances from the Interior Ministry that LANGO would not be used to hinder activities of grassroots groups, the Ministry of Environment used it as a justification to prohibit the legitimate conservation activities of the PLCN. Using LANGO to prevent community members from blessing trees in a protected forest again demonstrates how harmful the legislation is in its current form.

β€œThe use of LANGO against the Prey Lang Community Network is highly restrictive and legally inappropriate,” said Am Sam Ath, deputy director of monitoring at LICADHO. β€œThis grassroots community network must be allowed to conduct its conservation activities free from harassment and intimidation.”

Lastly, the ministry accused the PLCN of using β€œdata without appropriate scientific basis” and β€œdocumenting exaggerated reports”. The PLCN consistently produces evidence-based research showing deforestation in the Prey Lang protected area, something that should be applauded and utilised by the Ministry of Environment, not criticised or rejected.

We care deeply about Cambodia’s forests, which have rapidly disappeared over the past several decades. We know from experience that dedicated, grassroots community groups such as the PLCN are the most effective at preserving protected forests. We strongly encourage the Ministry of Environment to embrace its own call for people to protect natural resources, and to stop opposing the activities, rejecting the research and intimidating the members of the PLCN.

Signed by over 100 grassroots community groups.Β 

See full statement : http://www.licadho-cambodia.org/pressrelease.php?perm=448