Samin Ngach

Role: Advisor, Cambodian Indigenous Youth Association (CIYA)
Active in Country: Cambodia
DTP Program: 2013 Indigenous Peoples Program - Cambodia

I was working with the Cambodian Indigenous Youth Association (CIYA) from 2011, starting as a member of staff and ending up as the president. Now I am acting as an advisor for the association. I have also worked as a board member of Organization for the Promotion of Kui Culture (OPKC) and am also now developing a professional career as a lawyer. I try to involve myself in all kinds of work to promote human rights, social justice and integrity. 

Most of my work involves capacity building for Indigenous communities: for Indigenous representatives, human rights defenders, activists who are working on the ground to protect the land and defend against violations of their rights.

We also provide human rights trainings, especially on Indigenous rights, international and national laws, documentation, and advocacy mechanisms. In terms of advocacy, we highlight mechanisms from grassroots up to international levels.

We work extensively with Indigenous youth, in communities as well as the youth wings of the Indigenous communities. Indigenous youths play an important role in continuing the work of the elders so I share my experiences with them so they understand more about their role and responsibility, about leadership, about how to document their stories, how to talk with local authorities, with governments, with policy makers, with UN bodies, with development agencies to find support and appropriate solutions when they face problems. I also work to support youth, elders and women in doing advocacy to promote and protect the rights land, territory and natural resources, particularly legal services and defend court cases.

Indigenous human rights defenders/activists (youths, elders and women) advocacy, demanding their rights to their land, cultures, territory and natural resources, working to promote human rights, integrity and social justice, has meant that they are facing threats from local authorities who arrest them, jail them, kill them, and other forms of harassment. They are accused of wanting to create a state within the state. This is a major form of discrimination and one of our big concerns at the moment.

If you look at the core International Human Rights Instruments, actually Cambodia has ratified a lot. But in practice, I feel that there is a lack of implementation from the government and a lack of dissemination to grassroots levels. Most of the Indigenous communities don't know about these rights. Even local authority officials and private companies don’t understand that kind of instruments which related to Indigenous Peoples.

The specific human rights violations we are working against is that the state does not perform properly to provide intervention when the Indigenous community requests them to solve their problems, especially when there is land-grabbing by companies. For example, in one case, a hydropower dam project in Stung Treng province, there are more than 50 Indigenous Bunong families who existed there and have been forcefully displaced from their territory, from their ancestral lands. The community cannot accept the government's compensation policy because it is not fair for them: they have lost their traditional land, they have lost their ancestors' graveyards, they have lost their culture, their economic system, their education system, their health system. There are complaints from grassroots to national level but they have not received any positive response or acceptable solution from company and government.

Another example of a land conflict is in Mondulkiri Province, between a rubber plantation company (Socfin-KCD/Bollare) and seven or more Bunong villages. Indigenous leaders have actively addressed their concerns and problems to the company and the government, but the government accuses them and uses jail as a tool to make those leaders afraid. They use the courts as a tool for harassment. The company is also directly involved in these human rights violations.

The DTP program was very helpful for sure, a hundred percent! All the lessons that I learned from the training have been of great help, added to my existing experience and knowledge and has given me the ability to go on and share that with my community. Also, I have shared information about the DTP programs to young people in my network and some of them have also applied and participated. I still keep a lot of information from that DTP training and I pass that on to the youth here so that they can learn and improve their capacity. I keep in contact with many of the people that were on the training with me, both here in Cambodia and elsewhere - one friend is in Bangladesh working on similar issues, for example.

I am always trying to upgrade myself and am qualifying as a lawyer, so that will help in the fight to promote, human rights, justice and integrity of the Indigenous people of Cambodia. Indigenous justice and social welfare are my focus and my goal. To see the rule of law operating in this state.

Of course, as I am involved with this kind of thing, I face some trouble. When I was doing a media investigation of an illegal logging case, I was confronted by police with guns and they said 'do not enter this forest or we are not responsible for the consequences'. There is risk for me and they are still following my activities. But I am ready to fight for the promotion of human rights, integrity and justice.