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Cablegate: Cambodia's New Law On Protected Areas: Ngos Applaud

VZCZCXRO1032
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHLN RUEHMA RUEHNH RUEHPB RUEHPOD
DE RUEHPF #0113/01 0251013
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 251013Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9310
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHZN/ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PHNOM PENH 000113

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, EAP/RSP, OES/PCI--SALZBERG AND COVINGTON
BANGKOK FOR REO-WALLER, AND USAID/RDMA-PASCH
STATE PLEASE PASS TO USAID/ANE/TS--MELNYK AND EGAT/NRM/W--DEELY

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV EAGR EMIN ECON CB
SUBJECT: CAMBODIA'S NEW LAW ON PROTECTED AREAS: NGOS APPLAUD
THEORY, WORRY ABOUT PRACTICE


1. (SBU) Summary: On December 27, 2007, the Cambodian National
Assembly passed the Law on Protected Areas, which, for the first
time, regulates commercial activities within the country's 23
protected natural areas. The law aims to promote economic
development and reduce poverty while protecting and conserving
biodiversity in protected areas. Several NGOs complain that they
were not consulted when the law was finalized and worry about
effective use and enforcement. If, as it appears, the new law opens
the door to more environmental exploitation, the big economic losers
could be low-income families dependent on fisheries and forests for
their livelihoods--the very people most in need of economic
development. End Summary.

Protected Areas Divided into Four Zones, Economic Development
Permitted in Two
--------------------------------------------- ----

2. (U) The Cambodian National Assembly passed the Law on Protected
Areas on December 27, 2007. Once approved by the Senate and signed
by the King, typically one to three months after National Assembly
passage, the law will come into force. The new law supplements the
1993 Royal Decree on the Creation and Designation of Protected
Areas, which demarcated the boundaries of the protected areas but
did not set guidelines for their protection, and the 1996 Law on
Environmental Protection and Natural Resource Management, which
created the Ministry of Environment and gave it jurisdiction over
the protected areas, but again failed to define what activities were
permitted or prohibited in the areas.

3. (U) The new law divides the protected areas into four zones:
the core zone, the conservation zone, the sustainable use zone, and
the community zone. The core zone is an area for conserving
endangered and threatened flora and fauna species and which has a
vulnerable ecosystem. The conservation zone is near the core zone
and meant to be beneficial in conserving natural resources,
ecosystems, watershed, and aesthetic beauty. The sustainable use
zone is a managed area significant for national socio-economic
development; the community zone is an area managed for existing
social and economic development activities of the local and
indigenous people. Environmentalists expressed concern that these
definitions are unclear and subject to substantial interpretation.
The government will issue an implementing sub-decree in the future
which will delineate the new zoning within the protected areas.

4. (U) The proposed law bans any economic development in the core
and conservation zones, although research in the interest of
security and national defense is allowed. The government can permit
investment and development projects in the sustainable use and
community zones at the request of the Ministry of Environment
following consultations with relevant ministries, local authorities
and communities. However, prior to any economic development
project, the law requires that an environmental impact assessment
(EIA) be completed.

MPs Call for Robust Environmental Impact Assessments
--------------------------------------------- -------

5. (U) During the debate in the National Assembly, SRP
parliamentarian Son Chhay and FUNCINPEC MP Monh Siphan urged the
Minister of Environment to ensure that credible EIAs were conducted
properly before permitting any economic development in protected
areas. (Comment: Currently, EIAs are conducted by the
concessionaires, and are generally not considered to be credible.
End Comment.) Son Chhay added that the EIA must be conducted with
the participation from the relevant ministries, communities and
civil society in order to avoid conflict, as past experience showed
countless disputes between the local villages and concessionaires.


Environment Minister Announces Exploration Rights Awarded
--------------------------------------------- ----------

6. (U) In response to press inquiries immediately following
National Assembly passage of the law, Environment Minister Mok
Mareth said the government had granted several private companies the
right to explore many protected areas, including the Cardamom
Mountains, Phnom Aural, and Virachey National Park. He noted that
the law is a tool that the government can use to effectively
implement programs in the 23 protected areas to make sure that
Cambodia can conserve those areas for the current and future
generations.

NGOs Applaud Legal Concept, Worry about Implementation
--------------------------------------------- ---------

7. (U) Environmental NGOs commended the effort to finally define

PHNOM PENH 00000113 002 OF 002


what activities are permitted in protected areas. However, they
expressed frustration at not being involved in drafting the law,
saying that they had not seen the law after the first draft and were
not invited to provide comments. They also expressed strong doubts
about whether the law could be effectively implemented, and worried
that legal provisions allowing the government to change zone
boundaries based on policy and strategy concerns will give the
government carte blanche to allow environmentally harmful activities
in sensitive areas.

Comment: Economic Development at What Cost?
--------------------------------------------

8. (SBU) Comment: While Cambodia's efforts to finally provide a
legal framework for regulating protected areas are to be lauded,
like so much else here, the gap between theory and practice
threatens to outweigh the potential benefits of legal clarity.
Environment Minister Mok Mareth's eagerness to announce that private
companies had been awarded exploration rights in protected
areas--even before the law allowing such activities comes into
force--suggests that economic development is the government's
overriding motive in passing the legislation. Cambodia's
environmentally sensitive areas--protected or not--already play a
big economic role in the lives of its most vulnerable people.
Cambodia's fisheries--among the most productive in the
world--produce an annual fish catch valued at USD 500 million in
2005, which millions rely on for protein. And reports by a local
research institute indicate that low-income Cambodian families
generate 42% of their income from non-timber forest products. If
the new law allows the government to grant economic concessions or
permit large-scale economic activities in protected areas, the
government's purported efforts to assist economic development may
end up undermining the livelihoods of the Cambodians who need help
the most. End Comment.

MUSSOMELI

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