Ratanakiri, 12 December 2015. The decision of the First Assembly of Cambodia’s indigenous peoples to affirm and formally launch the Cambodia Indigenous Peoples Alliance (CIPA) was greeted with jubilation. After existing informally for some time, CIPA was embraced and declared by more than 100 delegates of 17 indigenous peoples from 12 provinces as their national alliance. They also created the CIPA Executive Council as the provisional governing body of the Alliance.
Reflecting on the almost 15 years of activism that saw several Indigenous Peoples’ Human Rights Defenders (IPHDRS), mostly women, face harassment, threats, inducements to abandon their causes, feeling alone in the struggle several times, the Assembly realised that through time, disorientation had crept into their struggle. There was recognition that the organizations veered towards operating as non-government organisations (NGO) that lost their umbilical link with the communities, with activists turning into implementors of NGO projects instead of immersing themselves in their communities. Summing up their experiences, and identifying their lessons, the delegates decided to reclaim, revive, renew and move forward with their collaboration to work together collectively to advance their rights and welfare.
CIPA is an alliance of indigenous communities and peoples’ organisations, associations, and networks. It serves as a platform for solidarity, cooperation and coordination of actions for the promotion and assertion of the collective rights of indigenous peoples in Cambodia within the framework of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples [UNDRIP]. The Royal Government of Cambodia voted favorably for the adoption of the UNDRIP at the United Nations General Assembly in 2007.
Samut Chhloem, a Kui human rights defender from Prame, Preah Vihear Province, encouraged everyone to face the rough road ahead, saying that “Sometimes our individual efforts to change our situation fail, and we feel frustrated, demoralised. However, if we explore possibilities collectively, we share the burden of our failures, learn lessons and move forward with greater wisdom.”
Reminding the value of earlier close collaboration between the elders and youth, Bunong elder Team Leap shared his wisdom when he said “”The old have the experience of the young; the young do not have the experience of the old.”
“Indigenous peoples do not often come together to study the issues and how to address these. This is part of our education,” emphasized Sokhorn, a Kroeung youth leader from Ratanakiri.
Kha Sro, a feisty veteran Kui human rights defender from Stung Treng, reminded everyone that to strengthen mobilization and networking is not easy. “We must present clear objectives on why we need to act together, and use our indigenous decision-making processes to come up with decisions, not to be forced to decide because of corporate or state impositions,” she further advised.
“Money is important to us, but how do we reduce our dependence on money/donors?” asked Phearom, Bunong woman leader from Mondulkiri. Kha Sro replied, “If we don’t start from ourselves, who will help us?” as she paid her USD 2.50 initial contribution.
The question on how delegates will promote the indigenous alliance in their communities was answered with commitments to discuss the alliance in consultations at the village, district and provincial levels. After one year, there shall be an assessment on the progress of consolidating and building the base of the alliance.
“We assert our rights as indigenous peoples by identifying who we are, by building our capacity, by promoting our voices, and influencing the environment which envelops us,” said a Luon elder from Kratie. “We must know our human rights and laws so that we will not lose our identity, maintain our core values, and use this to build the trust with everyone, even with our neighboring villages,” added a Khornh elder from the same province.
The Assembly ended its 2-day event by adopting a Banlung Declaration that will guide the work of CIPA through various strategies as it embarks on a collective process of strengthening the cooperation and collaboration for the assertion of the collective rights of indigenous peoples in Cambodia.
BANLUNG DECLARATION OF THE FIRST GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES IN CAMBODIA
“Reclaim the past, strengthen solidarity to work for the future of the next generations”
We, 107 delegates of Bunong, Kroeung, Tampuon, Jarai, Kui, Suoy, Por, Prov, Kavet, Luon, Krol, Stieng, Mil, Khornh, Chhong, Kachok, and Saoch, coming from the provinces of Ratanakiri, Mondulkiri, Stung Treng, Kratie, Preah Vihear, Kampong Thom, Kampong Speu, Pursat, Battamang, Koh Kong, Kampong Sam, and Tbong Khmom, gathered at Yeak Loam, Banlung, Ratanakiri Province, in a historic First Assembly to strengthen our ties, efforts and plans for the future of the next generations of our peoples;
Reflecting the historical events which nurtured the activists among us who worked for the defense of our rights, engaged government to contribute to laws and policies, networked for support, all in the name of our communities;
Reflecting further, that our elders and leaders recognized the strategic role of our youth in the advancement of our collective struggle, and thus closely collaborated with them from the beginning;
Realising that the intent of the elders and youth working together, of communities defining our priorities, of self-determined activism which is the driving force of our actions, have deteriorated through time for various reasons;
Realising that we have structured and expanded our organizations, set up offices and learned to do logframes, learned the various strategies and engaged in advocacy at various levels;
Realising that despite all these efforts, we are not working together effectively to advance our causes and thus not optimizing our efforts;
Having adopted the CIPA as our national network, we in this Assembly of Indigenous Peoples in Cambodia hereby declare the following:
- Henceforth, we reclaim our original intent of working together for the future of the next generations;
- We agree to form the Cambodia Indigenous Peoples Alliance, also known as CIPA, with its Executive Council;
- We agree on our vision as a Cambodian society where indigenous peoples fully enjoy all their individual and collective rights;
- We agree on the goal of strengthening indigenous institutions and collective representation;
- We agree through this Alliance to cooperate, collectively plan, implement, monitor and evaluate common initiatives to advance our individual and collective rights;
- We agree to mindfully strengthen our solidarity to address issues faced by our communities;
- We commit to build the capacity of our communities to claim their rights under national and international laws;
- We commit to work for the collective well-being of our peoples by employing various strategies;
- We assert our right to self-determination to decide on our development priorities;
- As an Assembly, we will be guided by the principles of collective decision-making, shared responsibility and accountability, and respect for independence and initiative of each member;
- We shall appoint the Provisional Executive Council.
Done this 12th of December 2015, at the conclusion of the First General Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of Cambodia, held at Banlung, Ratanakiri.