Indigenous peoples in Cambodia

Cambodia is home to 24 different indigenous peoples, who speak either Mon-Khmer or Austronesian languages.

The international human rights meaning of “indigenous peoples” has not yet fully registered in Cambodia in either the legal system or the media. More commonly, these people are referred to as “ethnic minorities” or “indigenous ethnic minorities”.

They live mainly in the six northeastern upland provinces of:

  • Rattanakiri
  • Mondulkiri
  • Stung Treng
  • Kratie
  • Preah Vihear
  • Kampong Thom

but indigenous communities are also located in nine other provinces around the country.

With an estimated population of 200,000 to 400,000 overall, indigenous peoples are generally estimated to account for 1 to 2% of the national population although they are not clearly disaggregated in national census data.

Legislation concerning indigenous peoples

The 1993 National Constitution guarantees all citizens the same rights “regardless of race, colour, sex, language, and religious belief” or other differences.

National legislation specifically recognizing indigenous peoples and their rights is contained in subsequent laws and policies dating from 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2011.

The 2009 National Policy on Indigenous Peoples’ rights in Cambodia is arguably the most progressive of all the countries in mainland Southeast Asia.

Lack of Implimentation of Indígenous Peoples' Rights

However, the main problem remains the lack of implementation and indigenous peoples continue to see their lands and forests grabbed through state-granted “economic land concessions” (ELCs) to commercial companies.

Indígenous Organizations

Although civil society action and organizations gained greater national prominence in Cambodia during 2013, the indigenous peoples’ movement has yet to find linkage with other sectors, such as the garment workers’ movement.

Indigenous organizations, while growing in 2013, still remain largely invisible on the national level.

Status of international conventions and declarations

The Cambodian government has ratified many of the main international human rights conventions, including the:

The Cambodian government has still not ratified ILO Convention 169.

In 2014, Cambodia underwent a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of its human rights record, in which the state again affirmed the existence of national policies and laws recognizing indigenous communal land rights, and that it engages in "consultations" with indigenous communities about their lands.

However, no mention of seeking their free, prior and informed consent to development projects that impact their lands was made.  

As of 2015 Cambodia was ranked the most corrupt country within the region of Southeast Asia

Yearly Update

Download the 2016 yearbook article on indigenous peoples in Cambodia to learn about major developments and events during 2015.