UN Oral Intervention: Deforestation in Cambodia

The following has been prepared by Next Century Foundation Research Officer Udit Mahalingam for submission by the Next Century Foundation as a statement to the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council:

The world’s attention needs to be drawn to the issue of deforestation in the Kingdom of Cambodia, and the complicity of timber and agribusiness companies in exploiting indigenous groups. 

Losing a quarter of its tree cover in the past twenty years, rapid deforestation existentially threatens indigenous populations within Cambodia, who now face internal displacement and alleged threats of violence from armed forces.  

All the more alarming is the fact that international stakeholders are profiteering from Cambodian deforestation. 

Despite a national ban on luxury hardwood exports, 500,000 cubic metres of timber is transported annually from Cambodia into the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. 

The second largest timber wood product exporter in Asia, Vietnam earned 10.5 billion U.S dollars from wood and woodwork exports in 2019 alone, its biggest markets being the United States of America, Japan, the People’s Republic of China and the European Union in that order.  

Illegally sourced Cambodian luxury timber, often referred to as rosewood, is being exchanged via legally officiated trade mechanisms. These include the 2001 US-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement, the 2015 Protocol to Amend the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement, and the 2019 EU-Vietnam FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement. 

We urge that Cambodia, in ratifying its proposed Environmental and Natural Resources Code, accommodate indigenous land claims within existing customary tenure rights provisions, thereby reinforcing crucial subnational protections. 

Nevertheless, given this issue’s international scope, we suggest that the United Nations Human Rights Council assemble a fact-finding mission to determine the extent of corruption in Cambodian natural resource management, and the nature of the transcontinental supply chain which imports large volumes of illegally logged Cambodian timber via Vietnam.  

The international community’s gluttony for hardwood timber must not come at the cost of the planet’s deforestation, the exploitation of indigenous communities, and the consequent environmental fallout which injures us all.

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