Two women harvesting rice in a rural rice field

Carbon Offsetting’s Casualties

Violations of Chong Indigenous People’s Rights in Cambodia’s Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project

Community members harvest rice in one of the villages included in the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project in Koh Kong province, Cambodia, June 25, 2022. © 2022 Human Rights Watch

Summary

In the past three decades, the Cambodian government has created national parks with little concern for local communities and Indigenous peoples. In practice, these large nature reserves have obstructed the recognition and titling of their traditional territories.

At the same time, powerful business interests affiliated with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party have benefitted from land concessions inside protected areas or are simply enabled to illegally extract resources.

This dynamic has led to a paradoxical situation in which 41 percent of Cambodia’s surface has nature reserve status, but the country boasts one of the highest deforestation rates in the world. Cambodia exemplifies how protected areas that are not community-led fail to benefit either people or nature.

Now, a new activity is competing with illicit economies in Cambodia’s forests: carbon offsetting. The government has energetically pursued a strategy to sell carbon credits in exchange for protecting forestland. By the first half of 2023, Cambodia had become a major supplier of carbon credits from nature projects: together with Peru, they represented 17 percent of the world’s output.

This report assesses the impacts on the rights of Indigenous people of Cambodia’s largest carbon offsetting project, the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project. The project is implemented jointly by the Ministry of Environment (MOE) and the conservation organization Wildlife Alliance (WA).

Human Rights Watch found that the REDD+ project conducted activities for 31 months before consulting Indigenous Chong people living in the area, violating their right to free, prior, and informed consent for the project. Project activities during those 31 months included crucial decisions on the management of more than half a million hectares of land, such as incorporating eight Indigenous Chong villages into a national park.

The decisions taken without adequate consultation with affected Indigenous peoples continue to impact their rights to this day.

Human Rights Watch interviewed Chong Indigenous families who described being forcibly evicted by MOE rangers, gendarmes, and WA staff from farmland they customarily relied on. In some cases, community members were arrested and detained for months without trial following the eviction, according to judicial records. Further, some Indigenous community members described being arrested and mistreated by patrols composed of MOE rangers, gendarmes, and WA staff while they collected sustainable forest products in the REDD+ conservation area. In two Chong villages, residents described WA staff and MOE rangers conducting arbitrary home searches to apparently deter collection of sustainable forest products.

The cases relayed to Human Rights Watch may not reflect the totality of such incidents.  

At the time of writing, the REDD+ project did not have a benefit sharing agreement with any of the communities included in the project. Benefit sharing agreements are legally enforceable contracts that establish the percentage of project earnings that will be disbursed to communities.

WA responded that all their activities complied with Cambodian domestic law and that the project benefits local communities. The MOE spokesperson wrote to Human Rights Watch that “the sale of carbon credits has benefitted communities that were involved in the protection and conservation of natural resources.” WA wrote to Human Rights Watch that the project had built wells, toilets, a laterite road, two schools, and one health post, given scholarships to five youths to attend university, provided agricultural training to small landholders, and operated two eco-tourism initiatives that benefited local residents.

In interviews with Human Rights Watch, Indigenous residents and community leaders expressed concern about the confusing boundaries of the REDD+ project and its impact on their livelihoods – particularly farming and collecting forest products. Several said they wanted the project to treat them as partners, including by managing a part of the REDD+ project’s revenue and being able to lead their own conservation activities independent of WA. Community members also said they shared the goal of protecting forests and emphasized the REDD+ project should respect their rights while conducting conservation activities.

The Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project

Human Rights Watch conducted a two-year investigation into the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project. The nature conservation project administers more than half a million hectares across the Cardamom rainforest in southwest Cambodia, one of the planet’s 36 internationally recognized biodiversity hotspots. The rainforest is a habitat for the Asian elephant, the sun bear, and the clouded leopard.

The REDD+ project also includes 29 villages with more than 16,000 residents. Families in these villages are farmers, with a third of them completely dependent on agriculture. The REDD+ project’s stated aims are to protect the fauna and flora of the Cardamom mountains’ rainforest and to provide economic opportunities for these communities.

The REDD+ project is implemented by the MOE and WA. As the government institution in whose jurisdiction the project takes place, the MOE has oversight over all project activities and design. MOE rangers also have authority to conduct law enforcement operations inside protected areas, including within the boundaries of the REDD+ project.

In its correspondence with Human Rights Watch, WA defined itself as a “boots-on-the-ground, community-led conservationist organization.” Its chief executive officer also wrote that WA provides “legal support” to Cambodian environmental law enforcement. WA oversees and funds the Cardamom Forest Protection Program (CFPP), which pairs WA advisors with MOE rangers and gendarmes (colloquially known in Cambodia as “military police”) to patrol the Cardamom rainforest.

Wildlife Works Carbon (WWC), a for-profit private company that stated in 2021 that it had developed 20 percent of REDD+ projects on the global market, is an investor and a technical advisor to the project. Everland, a specialized for-profit marketing firm, advertises the project and brokers the sale of its carbon credits.

As of June 2023, the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project had issued more than 27.6 million carbon credits. Companies and private individuals purchase credits to offset an equivalent volume of their emissions, a practice known as “carbon offsetting.” Once a credit is used to offset emissions, it is “retired,” meaning it can no longer be bought or sold. As of June 2023, more than 5 million credits issued by the REDD+ project had been retired, though many more may have been purchased and are yet to be retired.

An official report stated that as of late 2021, the REDD+ project had made more than US$18 million from the sale of carbon credits, of which US$6 million were spent in the project. Then, in November 2022, the carbon marketing firm Everland brokered a deal with multinational corporations that committed to buy millions of tonnes of carbon credits from the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project.

Human Rights Watch requested up-to-date information from WA and the MOE about the revenue generated by the project’s sale of carbon credits in 2022, as well as a breakdown of how the revenues have been used, but they had not responded to these queries at the time of publication.  According to WA’s website, agreements over revenue distribution have been concluded between WA, the Cambodian national government, and the Koh Kong provincial government. The REDD+ project does not have a benefit sharing agreement with any of the communities included in the project.

In the course of researching this report, Human Rights Watch has repeatedly urged WA to conclude benefit sharing agreements with local communities included in the project. In December 2023, WA published an “Open Letter to Stakeholders” on its website, and then later added to that letter an undated addendum titled “Benefit Sharing.” The addendum states the project spent a total of US$2,045,733 in 2023 in “community development activities,” and that the sum represented 36 percent of the “Annual Project Workplan” expenses, the remaining 64 percent being destined to forest protection activities. The addendum states that the project must also pay Verra, marketing fees, and Cambodian government authorities. The addendum does not state the overall revenue that the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project has generated, nor the percentage of that revenue destined to fund the Annual Project Workplan or “community development activities.”

Indigenous Chong People

Indigenous Chong people live in 11 of the 29 villages that were included in the REDD+ project, they have lived in the Cardamom mountains for centuries. Eight of these villages are located in Chumnoab, Pralay, and Thmor Donpove communes, forming the Chhay Areng valley in Thmor Bang district, Koh Kong province, and another three of those villages are located in O’Som commune, Veal Veng district, Pursat province.

In the past decade, Chong communities were threatened by the construction of hydroelectric dams. In the case of O’Som, the Stung Atay reservoir flooded a substantial portion of the commune, including important spiritual sites and farmland. In the case of the Chhay Areng valley, residents successfully fought back against the Steung Areng dam, but activists were persecuted by the government in retaliation for their organizing.

To date, none of these communities have been able to obtain communal land titles to protect their farmland, spirit forests, burial sites, and other communal land. The process to be recognized as Indigenous and gain a communal land title is onerous and complex under Cambodian law, and the vast majority of Indigenous communities across the country are yet to receive a title.  

Verra’s Certifications

While implementing the REDD+ project, the MOE and WA are obligated to uphold Cambodian domestic law and meet the international human rights standards to which Cambodia is party. Additionally, the MOE and WA have committed to upholding three voluntary standards managed by Verra, a nongovernmental organization that offers certification in exchange for payment. These voluntary standards are:

  • The Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), version 3.4, certifies the environmental integrity of the carbon credits issued.
  • The Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standards (CCB), version 3.0,which certifies that projects uphold the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities.
  • The Sustainable Development Verified Impact Standard (SD VISta), which certifies that projects benefit local communities in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Adhering to these standards may enable the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project to charge higher fees for its carbon credits.

Verra has a memorandum of understanding with the Royal Government of Cambodia to “support capacity building,” as Cambodia seeks to increase its participation in international carbon markets.

Of all private entities that offer certifications to carbon crediting projects, Verra is the largest, overseeing half of the global market. In 2023, several scientific studies criticized Verra for certifying projects that vastly overestimated climate benefits. Verra has denied the allegations.

Verra earns revenue based on the number of projects it certifies and the number of credits it issues for each of these projects. Further, the auditors that examine whether projects meet Verra’s standards are paid by the project developers who are being examined. Every aspect of what is described as an independent verification process is ultimately conducted by financially self-interested parties in the regulatory vacuum of the voluntary carbon market.  

Findings

Human Rights Watch interviewed 91 residents in 23 of the 29 villages included in the project, reviewed satellite imagery, topographic maps, scrubbed social media for pictures and videos to corroborate accounts, and reviewed the project’s official documents and audits. In September 2022, Human Rights Watch began requesting information and responses from the entities involved in the REDD+ project’s design, implementation, auditing, certification, and marketing through letters, e-mails, and calls. Human Rights Watch also held an in-person meeting with Wildlife Alliance and Everland in New York.

Impact on Indigenous Peoples’ Right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent

According to project documents and WA’s correspondence, the MOE and WA began organizing meetings with affected communities to inform them of the REDD+ project in August 2017. Although these meetings were formally intended to be a process to gain the free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) of people in the 29 villages included in the REDD+ project, these meetings began 31 months after the project’s start date on January 1, 2015.

In correspondence with Human Rights Watch, WA maintained that the project was not in existence prior to 2018. However, WA’s own correspondence and that of Wildlife Works Carbon, its technical advisor for the REDD+ project, as well as the official reports about the REDD+ project submitted to Verra, describe significant project activities being conducted prior to the consultation meetings held in August 2017. For example:

  • Wildlife Works Carbon told Human Rights Watch that they conducted a feasibility study, and that between 2012 and 2016, Wildlife Works Carbon wrote proposals to help find financing for the carbon project that WA and the government wanted to do in this area.
  • WA wrote to Human Rights Watch that between October 2015 and May 2016, WA mapped individual plots of residential land and farmland in villages that are home to Chong Indigenous peoples in Chumnoab, Pralay, and Thmor Donpove communes.
  • WA advocated for the creation of the Southern Cardamom National Park, and the Cambodian government created it in May 2016. WA wrote to Human Rights Watch that the creation of the national park was a “critical moment for a REDD+ project.” Eight Chong communities were enclosed in this protected area before their traditional territories were mapped and titled.
  • WA began developing the REDD+ project in October 2016 and signed contracts with the Cambodian government to create the REDD+ project in February 2017, WA wrote to Human Rights Watch.
  • According to the validation report issued by the auditing firm SCS Global Services in 2018, project activities were ongoing between January 1, 2015 and December 31, 2017.

The information about the scope, impact, and benefits of the project imparted at the meetings that the MOE and WA began holding in August 2017 appears to have been inadequate, given that residents in several villages repeatedly told auditing firms and Human Rights Watch that they did not understand what the project does, how its boundaries would impact their farmland, or how they stood to benefit from the project.

Regarding the accuracy of the information imparted during these meetings, the REDD+ project staff initially told reluctant community members that the project would assist them in gaining land titles, only to later concede in a 2021 audit that the project could not in fact confer land titles or had any insight into when land titles would be granted to residents.

Neither auditors nor Verra properly investigated nor addressed these grievances raised by community members during audits.

SCS Global Services, the firm that conducted the validation audit, replied that “FPIC needs to be attained prior to the implementation of any project activities that affect property rights (statutory or customary) of stakeholders,” but “that the FPIC meetings began in August 2017, which is not prior to the start date,” and concluded their auditor’s professional judgment was in line with existing practice. The auditing firm Aster Global responded that the issue of whether FPIC meetings were held prior to the start date of the project was beyond the scope of the audit they were contracted to perform.

Impact on Indigenous Peoples’ Livelihoods

The flawed FPIC process, and, subsequently, flawed audits, have had profound effects for the rights and livelihoods of the affected Indigenous Chong people, who have faced criminal charges for farming and for collecting sustainable forest products.

Human Rights Watch documented cases of six families where WA staff together with MOE rangers, and gendarmes, evicted Indigenous people from farmland they cultivated. In none of the instances documented was there any indication that residents received alternative farmland, nor humanitarian aid or compensation, with serious impacts for these families’ livelihoods.

Given the way these evictions were conducted, Human Rights Watch concluded they constituted forced evictions, which are prohibited under international human rights law binding upon Cambodia and which WA has a responsibility to respect. WA has said that these were environmental law enforcement operations in conformity with Cambodian law; but an eviction process deemed lawful under Cambodian law may still constitute a prohibited forced eviction under international human rights law.

Human Rights Watch documented cases in which three residents who said they were evicted from the farmland they relied on were also prosecuted on criminal charges. In these cases, the men were also reportedly asked to sign statements that incriminated them without having had access to legal counsel. They were subsequently detained for nine months without trial, according to judicial records reviewed by Human Rights Watch.

In addition to the criminalization of farming, Indigenous residents have also faced arrest and detention for collecting sustainable forest products that do not lead to deforestation or forest degradation.

Chong Indigenous residents from O’Som commune reported being arrested by a patrol composed of MOE rangers and WA staff for collecting sustainable forest products in the conservation area of the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project, specifically while they tapped resin trees. Tapping resin trees is a traditional activity practiced by many Indigenous communities across Cambodia, and it does not lead to the tree’s destruction. The residents who spoke to Human Rights Watch alleged that they were mistreated by WA and MOE rangers.

Chong Indigenous residents in Chhay Areng valley told Human Rights Watch that WA staff and MOE rangers, sometimes also together with gendarmes, would arbitrarily search their homes. A government official told Human Rights Watch they had asked WA to stop “harassing poor people just for collecting forest products” in the Chhay Areng valley. 

WA wrote to Human Rights Watch that “the residents of villages that are located inside the Project Zone can access non-timber forest products (NTFPs) inside the Project Area” and that “the Chong people have not lost access to resources as a result of the establishment of the SCRP boundaries.”

At the same time, the REDD+ project’s description submitted to Verra states that “the entirety of the Project Area will be within Core and Conservation Zones.” Under the 2008 Protected Areas Law, no collection of forest products is allowed in the “Core Zone.” On March 18, 2022, the MOE and WA concluded the zoning map of the Southern Cardamom National Park – which makes up most of the Project Area of the REDD+ Project – and they zoned most of the park as a Core Zone. By virtue of its design, the project restricts access to sustainable forest products for Indigenous peoples in a substantial area.

Response to Human Rights Watch Research

On June 20, 2023, after receiving a letter summarizing our preliminary findings, Verra informed Human Rights Watch that it was pausing the issuance of any further carbon credits for the project while it reviewed it. Verra declined to comment on Human Rights Watch findings while their review was ongoing, but noted Human Rights Watch’s recommendations in regards to Verra’s review of the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project would be “considered carefully” and “may be incorporated into Verra’s findings.”

Given that several of the concerns documented in this report had already been raised by community members during annual audits conducted since 2018, Human Rights Watch urges Verra to ensure its review provides effective redress for affected communities and individuals. Further, Human Rights Watch urges Verra to review its own processes to ascertain why they were unable to detect and ensure the remediation of the human rights abuses documented in this report.

On February 5, 2024, Verra wrote that it would take steps to improve the accessibility of its grievance mechanism in line with some of Human Rights Watch recommendations. These steps include allowing for grievances to be filed in different languages, conducting its own investigations into grievances on a case-by-case basis, and providing “entities filing grievances with relevant information throughout the process.”

In October 2023, after Human Rights Watch shared its final findings with WA and Everland, WA engaged an attorney at the law firm Foley Hoag LLP to “provide guidance regarding WA’s responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.” WA anticipated that the attorney’s work would “range from assistance in creating a Human Rights Policy to counsel regarding operationalizing our commitments through effective human rights due diligence.” That October, the Koh Kong provincial government issued a document stating it would begin surveying land in Chhay Areng valley – the first step for residents in this predominantly Indigenous area to obtain land titles. However, this process, as currently foreseen, will not demarcate communal land.

In November 2023, WA committed to take several steps in response to Human Rights Watch’s preliminary recommendations, including:

  • “to the extent that any Chong communities decide to pursue indigenous community land titling… provide technical and financial support for those efforts”;
  • working with Chong Indigenous people to “establish, train, and support an indigenous Community Patrol team in the Areng valley”;
  • “provide formal human rights training to all Cambodian government rangers and WA staff… with the assistance of the OHCHR [United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights]”;
  • developing a “formal Human Rights Policy” and integrate it into their “existing Code of Conduct and Standard Operating Procedures”; and
  • increase the number of grievance boxes available throughout villages included in the project.

In February 2024, Wildlife Works Carbon (WWC) wrote they “strongly refute HRW’s allegation that through Wildlife Works Carbon’s technical and financial support of the SCRP, WWC contributed to the human rights abuses that are alleged to have taken place during the implementation of the project.” Further, WWC wrote that “as part of WWC’s renewed commitment to working with Wildlife Alliance” they had “placed a WWC Cambodia staff member to be stationed on the ground” at the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project to increase WWC’s visibility of the project’s activities. Further, this “WWC staff member has assisted in creating a community-engagement strategy to manage community conflicts and grievances between MOE staff and community members.”

Key Recommendations for Verra’s Review of the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project

Human Rights Watch urges Verra to make issuances of new credits, retirement of existing credits, and renewal of accreditations for the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project, as well as listing of any new REDD+ projects in Cambodia on Verra’s registry, conditional on:

  • Comprehensive remediation for individuals and communities adversely impacted by the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project, including through monetary compensation;
  • Accountability for individuals involved in any human rights abuses perpetrated in the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project;
  • Mapping and titling of Indigenous Chong communal land by the Royal Government of Cambodia in line with sub-decree no. 83;
  • A new consultation process that upholds international human rights standards and best practice in relation to the right to free, prior, and informed consent, including by enabling residents to revisit the existing design, boundaries, activities, and project implementer of the REDD+ project;
  • Conclusion of binding benefit sharing agreements with local communities and Indigenous communities; and,
  • Formal recognition by the Royal Government of Cambodia in its REDD+ strategy of Indigenous ownership of the carbon stored in Indigenous territories.

Methodology

Rationale

There is growing interest in carbon offsetting projects by both governments and the private sector, including through a new mechanism contemplated under article 6.4 of the Paris Agreement on climate change. Forestry projects, including REDD+ projects, may supply a large volume of credits and many governments have begun taking steps to establish legal frameworks for domestic projects. This report seeks to contribute to the understanding of the human rights implications of these projects.

The Cambodian government is giving REDD+ projects a dominant role in its conservation strategy. Protected areas make up 41 percent of Cambodia’s surface. In September 2022, the Ministry of Environment announced that soon one-third of the country’s protected areas would be part of a REDD+ project, and that they aimed for all of them to sell carbon credits.[1]

Additionally, research on the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project provides an opportunity to assess whether certification organizations such as Verra can mitigate human rights risks in a jurisdiction, like Cambodia, where the formal recognition of Indigenous land rights is lagging, and rights abuses related to land are widespread and largely carried out with impunity.

Sources

For the elaboration of this report, Human Rights Watch relied on multiple sources. A Human Rights Watch research team visited locations within and near the Southern Cardamoms REDD+ Project (SCRP) and interviewed 91 people over the course of several research trips between April 2022 and November 2023. In total, the research team conducted interviews in 23 of the 29 villages included in the REDD+ project. In addition, the Human Rights Watch team made unannounced visits to the REDD+ project’s eco-tourism initiatives in Chi Phat and Steung Areng, and the agriculture training project in Sovanna Baitong. These visits were not coordinated in advance with WA.

The 91 people interviewed included 40 women, as well as three government officials (their exact titles are withheld for security reasons). All interviews were conducted in person (except for one interview conducted over the telephone) and in Khmer, either with the help of an interpreter or by a Khmer speaker. For the security of those interviewed, Human Rights Watch has assigned pseudonyms to all interviewees and withheld identifying details from their accounts.

All interviewees provided oral informed consent and were assured that they could end the interview at any time or decline to answer any question. Interviewees were not compensated. Some who traveled to meet Human Rights Watch researchers were reimbursed for the travel expenses they incurred.

In addition to gathering testimony, Human Rights Watch also reviewed documents made available by witnesses including birth certificates, land titles, commune and district registration forms, prison release forms, and micro-finance loan repayment schedules, among others. 

Open-source researchers at the Human Rights Watch Digital Investigations Lab (DIL) verified videos and images posted on social media by eyewitnesses, victims, government officials, and journalists, and cross-referenced it with testimony and satellite imagery. Human Rights Watch has withheld the dates and links to the social media posts we analyzed to protect the identities of witnesses identifiable in these pictures and videos.

The DIL geospatial analysts reviewed satellite imagery to corroborate victims’ accounts of crops or homes that were destroyed and analyzed the different maps provided by Wildlife Alliance. The DIL geospatial analysts also reviewed historical topographic maps dating up to 1899 and contemporary satellite imagery to assess whether villages inside the REDD+ project preceded the creation of the project and the creation of protected areas. The data sources and methodology for all the geospatial analysis featured in this report is described in detail in Annex 2.

Human Rights Watch reviewed the REDD+ project’s official documentation, including the project description and the monitoring, verification and validation reports available on Verra’s registry, and the promotional material published on the websites of Wildlife Alliance, Wildlife Works Carbon (WWC), and Everland.

Human Rights Watch also reviewed relevant domestic legislation and policy documents of the Cambodian government on land rights, Indigenous rights, nature conservation, and REDD+.

Human Rights Watch additionally reviewed reports authored by local civil society organizations, independent experts, academics, and United Nations special procedures, treaty bodies, and regional human rights courts on land, Indigenous rights, and nature conservation.

Between September 2022 and February 2024, Human Rights Watch exchanged multiple letters and held meetings with the governmental and private entities involved in the design, funding, implementation, and accreditation of the project. This includes the Cambodian Ministry of Environment, Wildlife Alliance, Wildlife Works Carbon, SCS Global Services, Aster Global, and Verra. The dates and a brief description of those exchanges is available in Annex 1. All the correspondence that Human Rights Watch sent and the correspondence we received that was on-the-record and which we had permissions to reproduce is also available at a link provided in Annex 1.

 

I. The Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project (SCRP)

This section describes the different actors involved in the project, as well as its activities, scope, and the publicly available information on the revenue it has generated.

The Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project is a carbon offsetting project developed and implemented by Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment (MOE) and the nongovernmental organization Wildlife Alliance (WA). The for-profit private company Wildlife Works Carbon (WWC) invested in the project, helped fundraise for the project, provides technical advice for its implementation, and assists with the annual audits.

Carbon offsetting, in brief

In principle, carbon offsetting is a mechanism that enables individuals, businesses, and governments to compensate for their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. One carbon credit represents one metric ton — or 1,000 kilograms — of carbon dioxide (CO2) that has been theoretically removed from, or prevented from being emitted into, the atmosphere.[2] A carbon credit is “retired” when the credit is used to offset an equivalent volume of the emissions it represents, also known as “carbon offsetting.”

Forest carbon offsets, in brief

To generate credits, some projects estimate the carbon stored in forests’ soils and vegetation. Based on this estimate, the project generates carbon credits for an equivalent volume of metric tons of carbon dioxide that would be released if the forest was razed. Several scientists have warned this accounting methodology often overestimates emissions reductions.[3] Others have expressed concerns about the permanence of reductions, given possible disturbances such as pests, fires, or changes in government policies.[4] 

Project Implementers

The MOE is the “project proponent.”[5] As a government institution in whose jurisdiction the project takes place, the MOE oversees all project activities and design. MOE rangers have authority to conduct law enforcement operations inside protected areas, including within the boundaries of the REDD+ project.[6]

WA is the “project implementer.”[7] WA is a nongovernmental organization that has operated in Cambodia since 2002 and conducts activities to combat deforestation and illegal wildlife trade in the Cardamom mountains region, provides training on agricultural intensification to smallholder farmers, and offers eco-tourism services.[8] WA was previously called WildAid and many Cambodians still recognize and refer to it by this name.[9] In its correspondence with Human Rights Watch, WA described itself as a “boots-on-the-ground, community-led conservationist organization.”[10]

WA also states that between 2002 and 2016, it “served as the technical partner for most of the zoning process” of the Cardamom rainforest, “supporting” the Forestry Administration and the Ministry of Environment.[11] They also stated that they provide “legal support” to Cambodian environmental law enforcement.[12] WA is responsible for implementing the “forest protection and community livelihood activit[ies],” according to the project’s description.[13]

WA manages the Cardamom Forest Protection Program (CFPP), a program that pairs WA advisors with MOE rangers and gendarmes from the Royal Gendarmerie Khmer to jointly conduct patrols, dismantle structures, destroy crops, conduct searches, seize timber and wildlife, arrest, interrogate, and transport individuals to detention centers, among other activities.[14] WA “has established 13 operating ranger stations covering the whole project area” of the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project, and WA “manages” stations.[15] WA also states it does capacity building for government rangers and equips them.[16] Overall, the REDD+ project employs more than 150 rangers.[17]

Wildlife Works Carbon is a private for-profit company that stated in 2021 it had developed 20 percent of REDD+ projects on the global market.[18] In correspondence with Human Rights Watch, Mike Korchinsky, the Wildlife Works Carbon CEO, said his organization was a “Technical Advisor and produced the technical documentation” for the project and “provided some training [to WA] and some financial support.”[19] In a videocall with Human Rights Watch, Mr. Korchinsky also said that Wildlife Works Carbon assists WA and the MOE in preparing the documentation required for continued accreditation under Verra’s standards and that it provided training to WA on how to conduct free, prior and informed consent consultations with communities included in the project, but Wildlife Works Carbon staff is not involved in the day-to-day implementation of the project.[20]

Everland, a for-profit company specialized in marketing carbon credits from REDD+ projects, was appointed by the Royal Cambodian Government to market the carbon credits generated by the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project.[21] (The company was established in 2017 by Wildlife Works Carbon, with Wildlife Works Carbon staff appointed to leadership positions in Everland.)[22] Everland says it represents the “world’s largest portfolio of high-impact REDD+ forest conservation projects, working on their behalf to market to businesses, on an exclusive basis.”[23]

Table 1. Entities involved in the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project

Entity

Role in relation to the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project

Royal Cambodian Government’s Ministry of Environment (MOE), the “project proponent”

Environmental law enforcement

Manages project revenue

Wildlife Alliance, the “project implementer”

Oversees the Cardamom Forest Protection Program (CFPP), an environmental law enforcement program with the MOE

Implements community livelihood activities

Manages project revenue

Wildlife Works Carbon, the “technical advisor”

Investor in the project

Provided training on FPIC to WA

Prepared the project design document

Prepares the monitoring reports required to gain and maintain certifications

Everland, the marketing firm

Marketing

Brokers sales of the project’s carbon credits

Project Scope

According to the official project description, the REDD+ project began on January 1, 2015 and is due to end in December 2044.[24]

The REDD+ project is organized in two areas, an inner “Project Area” and an outer “Project Zone”:

  • The inner “Project Area,” in which “project activities aim to demonstrate net climate benefits.”[25] This is mainly forested land that backs the issuance of carbon credits.
  • The outer “Project Zone,” in which activities “related to provision of alternate livelihoods and community development, are implemented.”[26] The Project Zone includes 29 villages.[27] Several of these villages are completely or partially inside protected areas that are managed by the MOE and where the Cardamom Forest Protection Program overseen by WA conducts environmental law enforcement.

The project’s description acknowledges 3,841 families or 16,319 people in the 29 villages in the Project Zone.[28] The description notes that “100% of families are engaged in farming activities” in these communities and for a third “cultivation is the main occupation.”[29] (See Map 1.)

Map 1. The Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project: project zone, project area, and communities Sources: see Annex 2.

When considering the Project Zone and the Project Area together, the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project overlaps with all or parts of six protected areas under the purview of the MOE: parts of the Botum Sakor National Park, the Central Cardamom National Park, the Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary, the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, the Southern Cardamom National Park, and the Tatai Wildlife Sanctuary (see Map 2).[30] The REDD+ project encompasses more than half a million hectares of land.[31]

Map 2. The Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project, a mosaic of protected areas Sources: WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, Annex 3 and 4; Wildlife Works Carbon, Project Description of the Southern Cardamoms REDD+ Project, March 8, 2018; Open Development Cambodia.

Human Rights Watch found that at least 23 of the 29 villages included in the Project Zone are included, partially or entirely, within a protected area. Of the 23 villages, some appear to overlap with more than one protected area. The six villages that are neither partially nor totally included in a protected area but are within the boundaries of the Project Zone are Sovanna Baitong, Choam Sla, Teuk Laak, Kamlot, Krang Chek, and Bak Angrut. Human Rights Watch shared this assessment with WA in February 2023, but WA had not responded to the finding at the time of publication.[32]

Project Activities

WA and Wildlife Works Carbon worked to “attract investors” as of 2012.[33] In 2015, the MOE and Wildlife Alliance began “forest protection and community development activities.”[34] 

According to the first audit of the project, between January 1, 2015 and December 31, 2017, the project achieved the removal of nearly 12 million tons of CO2 equivalent.[35] This enabled the REDD+ project to start issuing carbon credits in 2018 based on activities it began conducting on January 1, 2015.[36] 

WA wrote to Human Rights Watch that between June and July 2023, it “reached out to all the Commune Chiefs within the Project Zone,” and 11 of them “decided to provide a letter of support to the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project,” for which WA provided a template.[37]

(Commune chiefs are officials employed by the Royal Government of Cambodia, the project proponent.) Several of these letters described activities said to be carried out by the project in the commune chiefs’ constituencies.[38] Considering these letters alongside correspondence from WA and reports the project submitted to Verra, between 2015 and 2023, the project’s activities are said to have included:

  • “Delineat[ing] boundaries of land used by the communities and their farmland,” leading up to the creation of the Southern Cardamom National Park in 2016.[39]
  • Installing 1,203 demarcation posts between 2015 and 2021 to separate forest and community areas.[40]
  • Intensifying “patrolling of the Project Area” to prevent deforestation.[41]
  • Rescuing animals “from hunters’ snares,” removing snares, confiscating chainsaws, and seizing logs.[42]
  • Establishing an eco-tourism project in Chhay Areng valley in 2016.[43]
  • Providing training for “sustainable agricultural intensification” and “chicken and frog raising.”[44]
  • Providing bursaries for youth to attend university.[45]
  • Creating “Women’s Saving Groups.”[46]
  • Building water wells, toilets, and laterite roads, and installing streetlights.[47]
  • Building two schools and one health post.[48]

Human Rights Watch did not verify the project activities said to have delivered benefits to local communities, the quality of services being provided, and whether these services were provided in ways that are aligned with international human rights standards. During the research team’s visits to communities in 2022, staff members saw several water tanks that were built by the project.

The project’s description states that more than 3,800 families estimated to live in the Project Zone will “have improved livelihoods or income generated as a result of project activities,” and that the project expects to employ approximately 200 people.[49]

Project Revenue

In August 2021, the REDD+ project reported more than US$18 million in revenue from carbon credit sales.[50] The same report states “the project has spent $6 million dollars in project activities” since 2015.[51] Then, in November 2022, the carbon marketing firm Everland brokered a deal with multinational corporations that committed to buy 10 million  tonnes of carbon credits from the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project.[52]

Human Rights Watch requested up-to-date information about the revenue generated by the project’s sale of carbon credits in 2022, as well as a breakdown of how the revenues have been used, but neither WA nor the MOE had responded to these queries at the time of publication.[53] The REDD+ Project does not have a benefit sharing agreement with any of the communities included in the project, but agreements over revenue distribution have been concluded between WA, the Cambodian national government, and the local government of Koh Kong province, according to WA’s website.[54]

In the page entitled “Open Letter to Stakeholders” of its website, WA disclosed partial information on revenue and expenses. (While the letter was first published in December 2023, an addendum on “Benefit Sharing” was subsequently added between January and February 2024, at an unspecified date.)[55] The website does not state the overall revenue or annual revenue of the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project, but states the project spent US$2,045,733 in 2023 in “community development activities,” and that the sum represented 36 percent of the “Annual Project Workplan” expenses, the remaining 64 percent being destined to forest protection activities.[56]  The WA website does not state the percentage of overall revenue destined to the “Annual Project Workplan,” but it does state that the project must also pay Verra, marketing fees, and Cambodian government authorities.[57]

The project description notes that the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project “aims to utilize the revenue from emission reduction sales to provide a sustainable, consistent source of funding with which to maintain WA’s [Wildlife Alliance’s] protection activities and increase the number and size of project activities and their geographic influence.”[58] For her part, the WA CEO told news outlet Mongabay in October 2016 “the REDD+ Project is part of our business model for sustainable financing.”[59]

II. Chong Indigenous People in the SCRP

This section describes the Chong Indigenous communities that are present within the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project, the land use planning processes these communities have undergone, as well as WA’s participation in these processes.

The REDD+ project’s description acknowledges the Chong Indigenous people “have lived in the area for centuries.”[60] A subsequent project report states that the “[Chhay] Areng Valley is inhabited by eight forest communities (total population 461 families), the majority of which are ethnic Chong.”[61] Chong Indigenous people are also present in the three villages of O’Som commune, Veal Veng district, Pursat province, that are included in the Project Zone (see Table 2 below.)[62]

Table 2. Villages home to Chong Indigenous people in the
Project Zone of the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project

 

Village

Commune, District and Province, 

Population

1.        

Chrak Russey

Chumnoab commune, Thmor Bang district, Koh Kong province

175

2.        

Chumnoab

213

3.        

Chhay Louk

O’Som commune, Veal Veng district, Pursat province

565

4.        

Kien Chungruk

492

5.        

O’Som

507

6.        

Chamnar

Pralay commune, Thmor Bang district, Koh Kong province

190

7.        

Pralay

244

8.        

Samroang

216

9.        

Toap Khley

113

10.     

Koh

Thmor Donpove commune, Thmor Bang district, Koh Kong province

218

11.     

Prek Svay

374

Sources: Wildlife Works Carbon, “Southern Cardamoms REDD+ Project,” March 8, 2018, pp. 21-22; Human Rights Watch interviews with Chong elders and community leaders between April and July 2022; Cambodian government’s 2018 submission to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

These communities have faced substantial barriers to formal recognition of their land rights. To date, none benefit from a communal land title that would recognize their communal farmland, burial sites, or spirit forests.

O’Som

The government-backed construction of the Stung Atay hydroelectric dam, between 2009 and 2013, flooded thousands of hectares of O’Som commune, including tree spirits worshipped by the Chong people and Chong farmland in the Voa Pen area.[63]

While the government handed out permits to log the dam reservoir prior to flooding, large-scale illegal logging, particularly of rosewood, extended beyond the authorized area.[64] A prominent Cambodian environmental activist who investigated the logging was shot and killed in 2012.[65] Elders interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Chhay Louk village said people returned to the Voa Pen area after logging operations had ceased, to try to reclaim what was left of their farmland.[66]

In 2013, individual plots of residential land and farmland were surveyed in O’Som commune, as part of the implementation of Order 01 BB issued by Prime Minister Hun Sen.[67] Based on the Order, the prime minister sent thousands of volunteers to survey land plots and issue receipts to owners.[68] Landowners then had to undertake additional administrative procedures to convert the receipt into a land title conferring ownership rights.

Crucially, this process did not require a survey of Indigenous communal land such as burial sites or spirit forests – instead, survey of Indigenous territories must be at the initiative and expense of residents, and the government must recognize the Indigenous status of the community as a precondition for surveying, as detailed in sub-decree no. 83.[69] The prime minister’s volunteers who surveyed O’Som commune therefore did not have a mandate to survey Voa Pen as communal property at the time they conducted this work.

According to WA, in 2017 WA worked with government authorities to redraw the boundaries of Chhay Louk village in O’Som commune, which conferred 409 additional hectares to the village.[70] In correspondence with WA, Human Rights Watch requested the minutes of the land use planning meetings held between WA and the government, to obtain documentation that could support WA’s statement.[71] WA said it did not have the minutes, though it did provide minutes for several other communes where it said it had been involved in the zoning.[72] 

WA provided a map of O’Som commune that indicates the centers of Chhay Louk, Kien Chungruk, and O’Som villages, but not the outlines of individual villages (see Map 3 below).[73] This map shows that the commune stretches over three protected areas: the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, the Central Cardamom National Park and the Southern Cardamom National Park (these are also known as Central Phnom Kravanh National Park and Southern Phnom Kravanh National Park, the name in Khmer of the Cardamom Mountains). Each protected area is required to undergo its own zoning process under the 2008 Protected Areas Law, which defines inner boundaries marking which parts of the park allow for human settlements, farming, and gathering of forest products, for example.[74] This process has not yet been completed for any of these three protected areas, keeping residents in limbo about their land rights.[75]

 
Map 3. O’Som commune in Veal Veng district, Pursat province. Source: WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, Annex 8; annotation showing Voa Pen added by Human Rights Watch Digital Investigations Lab based on interviews and georeferenced images collected in Voa Pen.

Chhay Areng Valley

In the Chhay Areng Valley, the situation of the Chong communities has also been fraught with difficulties. There are a total of eight villages across three communes –Chumnoab, Pralay, and Thmor Donpove – in the valley.[76]

The communities in Chhay Areng valley were successful in stopping the construction of the Steung Areng dam. The dam would have flooded their villages, farmland, burial sites, and spirit forests, and displaced an estimated 1,500 people.[77] Chong Indigenous leaders and environmental defenders from the group Mother Nature Cambodia maintained a roadblock between May and September 2014 that prevented construction from moving forward.[78]

However, this victory for the community came at a cost. In October 2015, a Chong Indigenous leader was jailed on spurious charges for six months.[79] The Cambodian Center for Human Rights’ analysis of the evidence supporting the case concluded the charges lacked any legal basis and the defenders’ conviction and imprisonment was likely retaliation for his role in organizing Chong people to resist the dam.[80]

The threat of the dam led Chong people to seek support from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which in December 2015 began assisting five villages in Chhay Areng valley to gain recognition of their Indigenous status by the government.[81] Petitioning the government for five villages to be recognized as Indigenous Chong, which is only the first step towards a communal land title, cost approximately US$40,000.[82] OHCHR footed the bill, which supported the communities, but the exorbitant cost underscores the financial barriers that Indigenous people face to exercise their rights.[83]

In 2016, the Chong also created Community Committees for each of the eight villages in the valley. Committee members and leaders were elected by village residents through suffrage. The committees, each with five to seven elected members, make decisions on agriculture, tourism, development, as well as documentation of Chong culture and tradition.[84]

In May 2016, the entire Chhay Areng valley and all its eight Chong villages were incorporated into the Southern Cardamom National Park, following years of advocacy by WA towards the creation of the park.[85]

In 2017, the government recognized the Indigenous identity of three of the villages that requested it in 2016 (Chrak Ruessey, Koh, and Prek Svay).[86] At the time of publication two villages had not yet received a response (Chumnoab and Pralay).[87] Pralay village submitted a new request in May 2023.[88]

Thmor Donpove Commune

In 2013, as part of the implementation of the Prime Minister’s Order 01 BB, volunteers surveyed individual plots of residential land and farmland in Thmor Donpove commune.[89] Surveys conducted following Order 01 BB did not map communal Indigenous land such as burial sites, spirit forests, or other sites of spiritual significance to the Chong.[90]

That year, WA contested 1,851 hectares that had been surveyed to become part of the commune. In the map below provided by WA (Map 4), these are marked in red or striped.[91] WA argued that the plots were irregularly surveyed over forested land.[92] An investigation into WA’s complaint by the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning, and Construction found that 35 percent of the land that WA contested was farmland being occupied and an additional 5 percent was a mix of field and forest, with the remaining 60 percent being forestland.[93]

Map 4. Map of plots surveyed in Thmor Donpove commune during implementation of Order 01 BB in 2013, showing plots contested by WA Source: WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, Annex 3, p. 36.

It was not until October 2015 that government officials and WA agreed on a map of the commune, according to the minutes of the meeting shared by WA.[94] The minutes of the meeting do not state how much of the contested land ultimately made it into the map.[95] Nonetheless, this second map (see Map 5 below) does show that most of the contested plots that were previously marked in red or striped were ultimately eliminated from the Thmor Donpove commune final map following WA’s intervention.

Map 5. Map of Thmor Donpove commune in October 22, 2015 Source: WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, Annex 3, p. 45.

Despite this lengthy process, in April 2022 a government official with knowledge of the matter told Human Rights Watch that no one in the Thmor Donpove commune had received land titles.[96]

In July 2017, the two villages in Thmor Donpove commune gained recognition from the government of their Indigenous Chong identity, a process initiated by community members in December 2015 with support from OHCHR.[97]

Chumnoab and Pralay Communes

In Chumnoab and Pralay communes, neither individual plots nor communal land have been surveyed by the government. A Chong Indigenous leader from Chumnoab commune told Human Rights Watch he believed the government’s plan to build the Steung Areng dam had prevented land titling.[98] (In correspondence to Human Rights Watch, WA also wrote that “land registration of Chhay Areng’s six villages could not proceed because the villages were going to be flooded for the dam’s reservoir.)[99]

Between June 2015 and March 2016, WA conducted a “livelihood assessment” of the villages, took aerial photographs of the valley, calculated how much farmland they believed should be assigned to families in each village, and proposed a draft zoning map to the provincial governor of Koh Kong, according to WA.[100] Between March and April 2016, WA then took steps to “ground truth” the proposed boundaries, with, according to WA officials, participation from local officials and residents.[101]

WA presented the zoning map they prepared to the Provincial State Land Management Committee of Koh Kong in May 2016, and, according to WA, this was the “final community area map.”[102] However, in their correspondence with Human Rights Watch, WA shared two different maps of Chumnoab and Pralay communes whose boundaries did not match.[103]

In July 2017, Chrak Russey village in Chumnoab commune gained recognition from the government of their Indigenous Chong identity, a process initiated by community members in December 2015 with support from OHCHR.[104] In May 2023, Pralay village in Pralay commune submitted a request for official recognition of their indigenous identity, and the Pralay commune chief has encouraged other villages to do the same, according to WA.[105]

 

III. Verra Certifications Granted to the SCRP

The Ministry of Environment (MOE) and Wildlife Alliance (WA) have sought to have the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project certified as complying with several standards managed by Verra, a private US-based nonprofit corporation. Verra was founded in 2007 with the objective of providing “greater quality assurance in voluntary carbon markets.”[106] Verra is the largest organization in the voluntary carbon market’s certification industry.[107]

Verra administers numerous standards under which they guarantee the environmental and social integrity of carbon offsetting projects listed in their registry. Verra has also a memorandum of understanding with the Royal Cambodian Government to “support capacity building and discussions around technical matters, including registry development and linkages.”[108]

The Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project has subscribed to three of Verra’s certification programs:

•             The Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), version 3.4, which certifies the environmental integrity of the carbon credits issued.[109] Where Verra certifies projects using this standard, Verra issues Verified Carbon Units (VCUs), which are tradeable emissions reductions.[110] Only this accreditation is required to be listed on Verra’s registry, while others are optional.

•             The Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standards (CCB), version 3.0, an optional standard that projects can subscribe to, certifies that projects uphold the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities in line with the Cancun Safeguards.[111]

•             The Sustainable Development Verified Impact Standard (SD VISta), another optional standard that certifies that projects benefit local communities in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).[112]

Projects that also obtain Verra’s CCB or SD Vista certifications can apply these labels to their VCUs and sell them at a higher price compared with VCUs that do not have these labels.[113] Verra wrote to Human Rights Watch that a “project may retroactively apply CCBS or SD VISta labels to VCUs, provided that verification from the respective program are approved for the VCUs in question.”[114]

By June 2023, the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project had issued a total of 27,627,237 VCUs, of which 5,321,735 have been retired.[115] (A credit is retired once it has been claimed as an offset by the buyer, after which the credit can no longer be traded in the market.) All the VCUs issued by the project bear a CCB label.[116] Of these, 11,991,197 VCUs issued by the project also bore SD VISta labels.[117]

Verra is registered as a nonprofit corporation under US law and earns revenues by certifying projects, by listing projects in its registry, and for issuing credits for projects.[118]

To obtain Verra’s certifications, project developers produce periodic reports (“monitoring” reports) describing the design and implementation of the project.[119] Developers must contract auditing firms authorized by Verra to verify the information presented in their reports.[120] The auditing firms then issue their own reports (“validation” and “verification” reports) assessing whether the information in the project implementers’ reports is correct.[121]

Auditing firms may open “findings” if they believe something about the project does not conform with the standard. Project implementers must address these findings through written comments as well as conversations with auditors that are not transcribed in the audits. Auditors will close the finding if they deem it has been adequately addressed.

The auditing firms are paid by the project developers to conduct their work.

All reports are made available to Verra, which makes final decisions to grant certifications, or not, as well as whether to issue credits. The overall administration of these certification programs rests with Verra.[122]

In Human Rights Watch’s view, Verra’s operating model has fundamental conflicts of interest since an independent evaluation process is actually conducted by financially self-interested parties from beginning to end in the regulatory vacuum of the voluntary carbon market.

When Human Rights Watch began the research for this report, objections to decisions taken by Verra on “an aspect of how it operates a program(s) managed by Verra, or a claim that relevant program rules have had an unfair, inadvertent or unintentional adverse effect” could be submitted through its complaints and appeals procedure.[123] Verra would assess the complaint internally and provide a written response to the complainant.[124] If the matter was not resolved to the satisfaction of the complainant, the latter may appeal to Verra’s Board, whose decision is “final and binding.”[125] The cost of the entire process was borne by the complainant if the decision was not favorable to them.[126]

In June 2023, Verra wrote to Human Rights Watch that they would waive expense reimbursement requirements “on a case-by-case basis” and that they were “updating” their Complaints and Appeals Policy to explicitly waive reimbursement requirements.[127] In December 2023, Verra published a new Complaints and Appeals Policy that indeed no longer requires complainants to pay in order to have their allegations investigated, and provides a timeline for the resolution of complaints, among other improvements over its previous procedure.[128]

Verra also wrote to Human Rights Watch that, in the event a project is found to be in breach of the standard that Verra manages, and caused harm as a result, Verra would:

investigate concerns raised by stakeholders, project proponents, validation/verification bodies, and/or Verra itself, and will initiate a new review of the project where circumstances warrant. If we find that, as a result of the fraudulent conduct, negligence, intentional act, recklessness, misrepresentation, or mistake of the project proponent, there has been a material erroneous issuance of VCUs in respect of the project, the project proponent may be responsible for compensating for such issuance. [Section 6 of the VCS Registration and Issuance Process] The SD VISta Program includes a similar review procedure. [Section 3.11 of the SD VISta Program Guide, v1.0] Under the CCBS Program, Verra may suspend projects either at our discretion or in the event that we receive information indicating a project is failing to meet the rules and requirements of the program. A suspended project must undergo a full reassessment process in order to have its validated or verified status reinstated. [Section 4.7.3 and 4.7.4, CCB Program Rules, v3.1] Verra may also suspend or terminate a user’s account in the Verra Registry, including where we reasonably suspect that the user has engaged in fraudulent, unethical, or illegal activity.[129]

While Verra’s response provided some clarity into how it would assess the project proponent’s behavior, Verra did not clarify how it would independently investigate complaints where Verra staff could be implicated in “fraudulent conduct, negligence, intentional act, recklessness, misrepresentation, or mistake.”[130]

On May 30, 2023, Human Rights Watch shared its preliminary findings with Verra about the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project.[131] On June 20, Verra wrote to Human Rights Watch that it had “decided to investigate the concerns that [Human Rights Watch] raised” and was initiating “a new review of the project.”[132] Verra also stated it was “effective immediately… suspending any further credit or label issuance to the [Southern Cardamom REDD+] project under the VCS, CCBS, and the SD VISta Programs.”[133] Verra completed its review of the project on August 21, 2023, issued findings and tasked the auditing firm SCS Global Services to provide written responses to the findings.[134] Verra did “not contact any project stakeholders or community members directly” for its review.[135] Verra had not communicated its findings to Human Rights Watch at the time of publication.

While Verra’s review was underway, on August 2, 2023, WA staff approached a woman who had previously given an account to Human Rights Watch (WA states this was part of their process to “verify the veracity” of the claims made by Human Rights Watch).[136] The woman had told Human Rights Watch that WA and MOE rangers had arrested her while she was on her farmland.[137] Human Rights Watch did not share her name or other identifiable details with WA, as a measure to prevent and mitigate reprisals against her or her family.

When WA staff approached her, they were accompanied by two Cambodian government officials, and they had the witness sign a print statement during the meeting.[138] The print statement, which Human Rights Watch reviewed, incriminated the witness, and could be used in court during a prosecution against her.[139] Further, these actions identified the witness to Cambodian government officials as someone who had provided testimony to Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch shared the information it had available about the incident with Verra on August 18, and requested that Verra disclose how it would assess this conduct as part of its review, and more generally how Verra ensured the protection of individuals during its project reviews.[140] On September 25, Verra wrote to Human Rights Watch that they “do not contact any project stakeholders or community members directly” during project reviews, and that their “communications with the project proponent are limited.”[141] On October 12, Verra added it would not “provide any further comments on the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project until [their] review is complete.”[142]

In August 2023, Verra adopted a human rights policy. It states that where Verra has “concerns” that any of its “business partners are linked to human rights violations” or that Verra’s work “will be directly or indirectly linked to human rights violations by a business partner,” Verra will:

(1) use our Policy as a basis to communicate our expectations and work with them to mitigate these impacts, as appropriate, (2) only proceed with the relationship if we are comfortable that our work will not contribute to human rights violations, and/or (3) always be prepared to walk away from engagements where our integrity or commitment to respect for human rights could be called into question if we continued.[143]

At the time of publication, Verra had not shared the outcome of its review of the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project with Human Rights Watch.

 

IV. Human Rights Violations in the SCRP

Impacts on Indigenous Peoples’ Right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent

Requirement to Obtain Consent

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples calls upon states to “consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.”[144]

Verra’s CCB standard requires that:

The project recognizes respects and supports rights to lands, territories and resources, including the statutory and customary rights of Indigenous Peoples and others within Communities and Other Stakeholders. The Free, Prior and Informed Consent … of relevant property rights holders has been obtained at every stage of the project. […] Consent means that there is the option of withholding consent and that the parties have reasonably understood it [emphasis in the original].[145]

In 2018, the first audit of the project – conducted by SCS Global Services – established that all 29 villages in the Project Zone were “relevant property holders” under the definition of the CCB standard and that “the CCB requirement that ‘free prior and informed’ consent’ … be ‘obtained at every stage of the project’ holds for the SCRP.”[146]  

In this regard, SCS Global Services interpretation of Verra’s CCB standard aligns with international standards on the right to FPIC of Indigenous peoples. Indeed, SCS Global Services determined that, to move forward with the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project, WA and the MOE were required to seek and obtain the consent of Indigenous peoples impacted by the project.[147]

However, during the audit conducted by SCS Global Services and in subsequent correspondence with Human Rights Watch, WA maintained that they do not consider themselves bound to obtain the consent of Indigenous communities to implement the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project.

The SCS Global Services’ 2018 audit raised concerns about the lack of support for the project in one of the communities included in the Project Zone.[148] The audit report reproduces verbatim the REDD+ project’s “personnel” response to the auditor:[149]  

We assume that as the communities [in the Project Zone] have no land rights to or within the Project Area, their participation in the REDD+ Project is entirely voluntary, and in no way is their participation obligatory, either for the community(ies) or the project developers. We therefore assume that a formal consent is not required from communities in the Project Zone for the validation of the project, as they have no land rights to or within the Project Area.[150]

SCS Global Services reiterated to the MOE and WA their determination that all 29 villages in the Project Zone were indeed “relevant property holders” under the definition of the CCB standard and insisted that “the CCB requirement that ‘free prior and informed’ consent’ … be ‘obtained at every stage of the project’ holds for the SCRP.”[151]  

Following this exchange, the project “personnel” contended that the FPIC criteria under the CCB standard was unclear and that, in any event, few projects could achieve unequivocal support.[152] They pointed out that WA had involved higher-level representatives of government in more recent meetings and that, by June 2018, they had secured an approval rate of at least half or more participants who attended meetings in villages where the approval rate had previously been lower.[153]

In short, while maintaining that they were not required to gain consent, the project implementers argued to SCS Global Services that they had nonetheless tried to obtain it.

This position was reiterated by WA in in a letter addressed to Human Rights Watch on December 21, 2022. WA stated that “consent is not required as part of the Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) process” under Verra’s VCS and CCB standard.[154]

At the time of the audit conducted by SCS Global Services, the project personnel knew that Indigenous people resided in the Project Zone, and they had acknowledged this fact in the project description.[155] Their insistence that they are not obliged to obtain the consent of Indigenous peoples affected by the project contradicts international human rights law, the project’s verification standard, and even the auditors’ own initial finding.[156]   

Timing of Meetings

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples posits that States “shall” seek the free and informed consent of Indigenous peoples “prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources.”[157]

According to Verra’s CCB standard, consent by affected Indigenous peoples must be given “sufficiently in advance of any authorization or commencement of activities and respecting the time requirements of [local communities] decision-making processes.”[158] The manual recommended by Verra for the implementation of the CCB standard also states that consent should be measured on at least three levels:

Consent to discuss the idea for a REDD+ project that will affect community forests,
Consent to participate in developing a detailed plan for a project, and
Consent to the implementation of the project.[159]

Project documents state that the project began on January 1, 2015.[160]  In correspondence with Human Rights Watch, WA stated that they “conducted the first FPIC community engagement meetings in 2017,” and the project description of the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project submitted to Verra specifies the first meetings were held in August 2017.[161]

When asked about the 31-month time lag between the project start date and the start date of the process of seeking consent, WA provided four different responses, described below.

First, in December 2022, WA stated it held “participatory land use-planning meetings” between 2003 and 2016 to define the boundaries of villages included in the Project Zone, suggesting these meetings were part of the consultation process to obtain the free, prior, and informed consent of communities impacted by the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project.[162] WA reiterated this reasoning in its June 2023 letter to Human Rights Watch.[163]

However, Human Rights Watch’s reviewed all the minutes of “participatory land use-planning meetings,” provided by WA, and did not find references to the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project.[164] According to the minutes of these meetings, the participants were Cambodian government officials and WA staff; they discussed the surveys conducted by volunteers implementing the Cambodian Prime Minister’s Order 01 BB, a nation-wide land surveying and titling campaign that began in 2012.[165] Those minutes reflect that WA staff argued that thousands of land plots were irregularly surveyed during the titling campaign initiated by the Prime Minister, and that WA advocated that these land plots should not be considered eligible for titling.[166]

Second, in August 2023, WA also responded that the official start date recorded in the project description (January 1, 2015) submitted to Verra was a technical backdating “to capture activity that had been carried out by Wildlife Alliance,” but that the project was not in existence before the first meetings were held in August 2017.[167]

However, in the same letter, WA stated that in February 2017, “Wildlife Alliance and the RGC signed contracts allowing the creation of the SCRP.”[168] At the same time, the validation report issued by auditing firm SCS Global Services states that the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project reduced or avoided nearly 12 million tonnes of emissions “as a result of” the project activities conducted between January 1, 2015, and December 31, 2017, thus stating that project activities had commenced in January 2015.[169]

Additionally, WA’s correspondence described project activities that they and the Cambodian government conducted between January 1, 2015 and December 31, 2017. WA stated that between October 2015 and May 2016, it took steps with the Cambodian government to map the Indigenous Chong villages in Chhay Areng valley, and that these boundaries were “integrated by the Provincial State Land Management Committee into the zonation of the Southern Cardamom National Park,” which was created in May 2016.[170] (In June 2016, the WA CEO also told news outlet Mongabay that WA had worked with community and government to “re-measure land allocated to communities” in order to finalize the creation of the national park.[171]) The Southern Cardamom National Park enclosed 12 villages, of which 8 are home to Indigenous Chong people. WA wrote to Human Rights Watch that the creation of the national park was a “critical” moment for the REDD+ project.[172] The national park now forms most of the Project Area, backing the issuance of carbon credits for the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project.

Third, in August 2023, WA also responded that international law “does not clearly identify a single, precise point in time when FPIC must begin.”[173]

However, while international standards on the right to FPIC are formulated in a generic language to cover the vast range of situations to which they are applicable, both international human rights standards and Verra’s CCB standard are consistent in requiring that consent should be sought “prior” to the approval or implementation of the activity that impacts Indigenous peoples.[174]

Fourth, in November 2023, WA wrote that “you, HRW, claim that engagement meetings began taking place in August 2017, which is factually incorrect,” and listed activities conducted by WA in the Chhay Areng valley as of 2015, including surveying Indigenous land.[175]

However, it is WA’s letters to Human Rights Watch and the REDD+ project’s official documents, that state that the FPIC meetings began in August 2017, not Human
Rights Watch.[176]

Despite consultations taking place 31 months after the start of the project and after the MOE and WA had taken meaningful decisions about the project’s design and implementation, in its validation report the auditing firm SCS Global Services concluded that the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project met the requirement under the CCB standard that consent by affected Indigenous peoples must be given “sufficiently in advance of any authorization or commencement of activities.”[177]

When asked about this discrepancy, SCS Global Services responded that they had audited the project in relation to Verra’s VCS and the CCB standard, that they verified that the start date of the project was January 1, 2015, that they verified that FPIC meetings “began in August 2017, which is not prior to the start of the project” but that this was “in conformance” with the VCS and CCB standard.[178]

In Human Rights Watch’s view, SCS Global Services’ interpretation is neither consistent with the text of the CCB standard, nor with the requirements of international human rights standards on the right to FPIC.

When contacted by Human Rights Watch, Verra confirmed that they had validated the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project under the CCB standard on November 11, 2018.[179] Verra stated it would investigate the concerns raised by Human Rights Watch and initiate a new review of the project.[180] At the time of publication, the review was ongoing.

Based on the information received from all the parties and the project’s documentation, Human Rights Watch concluded that the MOE and WA failed to uphold the right of Indigenous peoples to FPIC by making a series of decisions about the project’s approval, design, and implementation prior to commencing the consultation and these decisions had adverse impacts on Indigenous peoples’ rights and livelihoods.

Content of Engagement Meetings

Regarding the information that should be provided at consultations, the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recommends that:

The substantive content of the information [provided during consultation] should include the nature, size, pace, reversibility and scope of any proposed project or activity […]; the reasons for the project; the areas to be affected; social, environmental and cultural impact assessments; the kind of compensation or benefit-sharing schemes involved; and all the potential harm and impacts that could result from the proposed activity.[181]

Verra’s CCB standard requires that “[t]imely and adequate information [should be] accessible in a language and manner understood by the Communities and Other Stakeholders.”[182] The information provided should cover “the nature, size, pace, reversibility and scope of any proposed project or activity,” “the locality of the areas that will be affected,” and “a preliminary assessment of the likely economic, social, cultural and environmental impact, including potential risks and fair and equitable benefit sharing,” among others.[183]

The project description states that the REDD+ project’s “FPIC officers” explained “the concept of REDD+, climate change, project activities and conflict resolutions” and “the project’s anticipated benefits as well as costs and risks” at meetings with local communities.[184] WA also wrote to Human Rights Watch that “a printout A0 size map of the Project Area boundary was presented and discussed and the concerned section of the Project Area boundary was presented, reassuring that the boundary did not overlap with any known community land.” [185] These presentations, which were given in Khmer, were said to be followed by “an open discussion and question time.”[186]

Land Boundaries

Several residents – including local government officials – in villages that are home to Indigenous Chong people told Human Rights Watch that they had repeatedly asked for information about the REDD+ project’s boundaries and how it would impact their livelihoods during engagement meetings (see quotes below). They said that the answer they received was that these boundaries would be defined later or that another official would inform them of the boundaries.

A lot of people in the area don’t understand REDD+… I cannot say there’s a good relationship with my office and Wildlife Alliance. I don’t feel we get adequate information during meetings. … I’ve raised unclear land demarcation in five meetings they’ve had at the commune level and they always say they will pass it on to someone else. It seems they are ignoring us.


– Government official (G1) in Chhay Areng valley[187]

I attended four meetings, raised issue of demarcation every time. … [T]hey didn’t make any promises but they said they could [do it] in 2023. Every time at meetings, people raise the issue of land demarcation.


– Government official (G2) in Chhay Areng valley[188]

There’s been three rounds of information. [Meetings] focus on technicalities and benefits, most people don’t understand and find it quite tedious. … In the early stages several people opposed it, they didn’t know the boundaries clearly and authorities had trouble answering it. The real big concern was that there was no clear demarcation between farmland and the REDD+ project…. There’s lots of uncertainty about it and it causes anxiety. Authorities said they couldn’t answer at the time. … People who attended the last information meeting raised questions about demarcation and Wildlife Alliance [staff] said there was no money for it and [that] they were not able to show a map.


– Indigenous Chong resident (R1) in Chhay Areng valley[189]

I’ve been to several meetings, they give explanations about technical aspects but no clarity on boundaries and demarcation of farmland… People raised concerns about demarcation of farmland, collection of [forest products] and areas where it would be prohibited.


– Indigenous Chong resident (R2) in Chhay Areng valley[190]

They said they would sell air. … I raised concerns about unclear demarcation between farmland and protected forest. I was told someone technical would answer our questions later.


– Indigenous Chong resident (R3) in Chhay Areng valley[191]

In August 2021, six years after the start of the project, the auditing firm Aster Global also found that: 

several communities reported high numbers of persons with no knowledge of the REDD+ project (Chhay Areng, Chi Phat, Pur Beung Chhay Reap). Additionally, of those who do report knowing about the project, high numbers of these persons report they do not know about the definition of REDD+, its implementation, how REDD+ benefits and funds will be shared to the community, boundary demarcation between REDD+ and their farmlands, and the grievance box and its purpose.[192]

The auditing firm opened a finding on this subject and asked the REDD+ project team to explain how they would address these issues. The project team said they would address “the need for increased awareness amidst remote communities through a three-prong campaign” that would include several modalities of outreach.[193] The auditor closed the finding, stating that it would be examined “in the future whether the three-prong campaign has been successfully implemented.”[194]

In the same 2021 report, the Aster Global auditor opened another finding noting that:

while several communities did feel informed of the project area and scope and were pleased with the progress, several others had substantial concerns that their lands would be impacted by project boundaries. Specifically, the villages of Pur Beung Chhay Reap and Chhay Areng stated concerns that no information of boundary location has been shared with them and that they fear the REDD+ project may impact their shifting agricultural land. Discussions indicated that while some meetings and documents have been provided, these areas still do not understand the REDD+ project and the impacts that it will have upon their land and agricultural activities.[195] [emphasis added]

The Aster Global auditor asked the REDD+ project’s staff to address these concerns. The auditing firm was evaluating the project’s compliance with the SD VISta requirement that the “free, prior and informed consent shall be obtained of those whose property rights are affected by a project through a transparent, agreed process.”[196] The project’s staff responded that they had already demonstrated they had gained consent and that the fears about land demarcation are “from people who are committing illegal acts on property they do not own.”[197] The auditing firm cited this as justification to close the finding, effectively dismissing the concerns relayed to them by residents. [198]

In April 2023, Human Rights Watch contacted Aster Global to seek their response. Aster Global replied the questions raised by Human Rights Watch were beyond the scope of its role as verifiers in the Verra programs.[199]

Information About Benefits

In August 2018, during the project’s first audit, SCS Global Services wrote that the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project staff told local residents “that one of the SCRP project activities is to assist communities in speeding up the land titling process.”[200] Human Rights Watch considers such information relevant to help communities understand how they may expect to benefit from the project. However, in a later audit by Aster Global from August 2021, the REDD+ project staff seemingly contradicted themselves, writing that “the Project cannot confer land titles and does not have any insight into this process” and “cannot provide the community or the audit team with any specifics or a timeline” for when land titles would be granted.[201]

Process to Assess Consent at Meetings

In regard to methods for assessing whether consent has been granted, the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recommended that:

In many, if not all, instances, consent must be recorded in a written instrument, negotiated by the parties, and signed affirmatively by a legitimate authority or leader of the relevant indigenous peoples, which may include more than one group […].
Indigenous peoples must have the opportunity, moreover, to consent to each relevant aspect of a proposal or project. A generalized or limited statement of consent that, for example, does not expressly acknowledge different phases of development or the entire scope or impact of the project will not be considered to meet the standard for consent.”[202]

WA wrote to Human Rights Watch that the question they asked community members during the meetings held in 2023 was: “Now you know what we have done in the past and what we are doing and what we will do in terms of emissions reduction activities. Will you maintain your support for the project to continue?”[203] (Human Rights Watch asked which questions were posed during consultations with communities dating back to 2017, but WA declined to respond).[204]

The REDD+ project staff described their process to measure consent as “voice votes on whether the community agreed to the project.”[205] Based on additional information provided by WA in June 2023, overall 98 percent of the people in attendance to the meetings organized in 2023 voiced their support for the project.[206]

However, this assessment should be contextualized in relation to the population in the villages consulted. According to the information provided by WA, in 5 of the 11 villages that are home to Indigenous Chong people, the number of people who voiced their support for the project represented fewer than 10 percent of the villages’ total population.[207] In the remaining six villages, the number of people who voiced their support for the project represented between 11.6 and 16 percent of the villages’ total population (see Table 4 below).[208]

Table 4. Rate of support for the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project in 2023

 

Village

Participants in the REDD+ project’s engagement meetings in 2023

Participants answering “yes” to the question “Now you know what we have done in the past and what we are doing and what we will do in terms of emissions reduction activities. Will you maintain your support for the project to continue?”

Total population in the village

Percentage of population in the village who answered “yes” to the question

1.        

Chamnar

20

19

190

10.0%

2.        

Chhay Louk

55

55

565

9.7%

3.        

Chrak Russei

28

28

175

16.0%

4.        

Chumnoab

25

25

213

11.7%

5.        

Kien Chungruk

33

33

492

6.7%

6.        

Koh

21

21

218

9.6%

7.        

O’som

31

31

507

6.1%

8.        

Pralay

34

34

244

13.9%

9.        

Prek Svay

22

22

374

5.9%

10.     

Samrong

30

30

216

13.9%

11.     

Top Khley

18

18

113

15.9%

Source: WA, “Annex 2: FPIC and Land Rights Summary,” June 28, 2023 for the number of voice votes in favor; Wildlife Works Carbon, “Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project,” (project description submitted to Verra for validation under the VCS and CCB standards), March 8, 2018, pp. 21-22, for the population in each village.

Some residents told Human Rights Watch that they lacked confidence in the consultation process, and they felt decisions had been made beforehand (see quotes below).

They [Wildlife Alliance] have no concern with our Indigenous identity. … They’ve never asked us for permission because from their perspective they already have an agreement with the government. Most people don’t participate in meetings because they have no confidence.


– Indigenous Chong resident (R4) of Chumnoab Commune[209]

They [Wildlife Alliance] use authorities to force people to accept [the REDD+ project], ... People here are more than willing to work with conservation organizations if they work honestly, but they hide their intentions.


– Resident (R5) of Thmor Donpove Commune[210]

Impacts on Indigenous Peoples’ Livelihoods

One day WildAid [WA] came and burned the hut and everything in it. We watched from afar. The rice was almost ready to be harvested and they destroyed the crop, too. We had a simple hut.


Chong Indigenous woman (R6) in O’Som commune[211]

Under international human rights law, a forced eviction is “the permanent or temporary removal against their will of individuals, families and/or communities from the homes and/or land which they occupy, without the provision of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protection.”[212] Forced evictions are prohibited by international human rights treaties to which Cambodia is party.[213] In addition, under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Wildlife Alliance has a responsibility to respect human rights.[214]

According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and UN-Habitat assessment of the prohibition on forced eviction under international human rights law, a forced eviction is made up of the following components, separately or combined:

A permanent or temporary removal from housing, land or both;
The removal is carried out against the will of the occupants, with or without the use of force;
It can be carried out without the provision of proper alternative housing and relocation, adequate compensation and/or access to productive land, when appropriate;
It is carried out without the possibility of challenging either the decision or the process of eviction, without due process and disregarding the State’s national and international obligations.[215]

States are prohibited from conducting forced evictions and are obligated to ensure through law and regulation that other parties under their jurisdiction also do not carry out forced evictions.[216] These obligations apply whether or not residents have formal land titles to the land they occupy. “Regardless of the type of tenure … everyone has a right to be protected against forced eviction,” notes the OHCHR and UN-Habitat assessment.[217] Moreover, “[e]ven if a national court has ruled in favour of an eviction or if the eviction is carried out in conformity with national legislation, the situation may still constitute a forced eviction if it does not comply with international human rights standards.”[218]

Human Rights Watch documented cases of Indigenous families who alleged that Cambodian law enforcement personnel together with WA staff evicted them from farmland they cultivated and formed the basis of their livelihoods. In none of the instances documented was there any indication that residents had the opportunity to challenge the decision or process of eviction, nor any indication that they received alternative farmland, humanitarian aid, or compensation. Three community members were also prosecuted on criminal charges and were jailed for nine months without trial, according to judicial records that Human Rights Watch reviewed.

Given the way these evictions were reportedly conducted, Human Rights Watch concluded they constituted forced evictions.

In its correspondence with Human Rights Watch, WA contends its actions were lawful under Cambodian domestic legislation, and were aimed at tackling encroachment on protected areas.

Criminalization of Swidden Farming

Chong Indigenous People in Chhay Areng Valley

The eight villages in the Chhay Areng valley are predominantly populated by Indigenous Chong people.[219] An older Koh village resident recalled that the area served as a base for Khmer Rouge insurgents and was unsafe until around 1997, when he was able to return and began farming again his “ancestral land.”[220] A Chong Indigenous man from Pralay village, who said he was born there, said that his farmland was the “land of my parents” and that they had been farming it since at least 1997 or 1998 when they returned to the village, echoing the year internally displaced people began to return.[221] A 60-year-old man said he was born in Koh village, and that his land was “the same as my parents and grandparents, we have been farming it for generations [through] shifting cultivation.”[222] In Chumnoab village, an older resident said she had been farming her land for more than 20 years.[223]

Human Rights Watch studied a French topographic map of Indochina that confirms that, in 1899, human settlements were already located where Chamnar and Chumnoab villages currently sit.[224] Geospatial analysis of satellite imagery shows a human settlement has been visible at the same location as Koh village since at least 2001.[225]

In May 2016, the Cambodian government established the Southern Cardamom National Park following years of advocacy by WA for the creation of the park.[226] The Chhay Areng valley was incorporated into the national park then, with all its eight villages. Residents from these villages told Human Rights Watch that they began experiencing various forms of harassment by WA staff since that year.[227]

Sub-decree no. 30

Five years after the park was created, new legislation came into effect amending boundaries again.

In March 2021, the Cambodian government issued sub-decree no. 30, excising the Chhay Areng valley from the Southern Cardamom National Park.[228] The sub-decree explicitly notes that land excised from the protected area could be surveyed and titled.[229] Sub-decree no. 30 also transferred jurisdiction over the excised land from the MOE to the Koh Kong provincial government.[230] By virtue of the sub-decree, the 2008 Protected Areas Law was no longer applicable in the Chhay Areng valley, which means the MOE no longer had a mandate to conduct environmental law enforcement in the area (see Map 6.)

Map 6. Zones excised from protected areas by sub-decree no. 30 (2021) and their overlap with the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project Sources: see Annex 2.

A Cambodian government official in Areng valley told Human Rights Watch, however, that WA disregarded sub-decree no. 30 and made its own determination of what constituted “legitimate farmland” amidst the excised land. “This fuss over the map is delaying people getting land titles. No one in this commune has secure land titles, not even me,” the government official told Human Rights Watch.[231]

WA wrote to Human Rights Watch that it had “agreed” with the MOE and the provincial governor of Koh Kong to continue patrolling land in the REDD+ project’s Project Area that was excised from the national park by sub-decree no. 30, as if it had not been excised and the 2008 Protected Areas Law was still applicable.[232] Human Rights Watch requested a copy of the agreement, and asked WA whether this agreement also applied to the Chong Indigenous villages in Chhay Areng valley, given that those villages were in the Project Zone, not in the Project Area.[233] WA did not respond to these specific queries.

Disparate Boundaries

Among the documentation that WA shared with Human Rights Watch between December 2022 and August 2023 were two maps, each with different versions of the boundaries of residential land and farmland – also jointly referred to as “community land” – in Chhay Areng valley.

In its letter dated December 21, 2022, WA shared a map titled “Areng Valley Community Zone.”[234] The map shows the community land assigned to the Chumnoab, Pralay, and Thmor Donpove communes.[235] The community land in this map approximates the boundaries of land excised by sub-decree no. 30 (see Map 7.)

Map 7. Map of community land in Chumnoab, Pralay, and Thmor Donpove communes prepared by Wildlife Alliance and the Ministry of Environment Source: Wildlife Alliance letter to Human Rights Watch, December 21, 2022, p.4

In an annex to its letter dated June 23, 2023, WA shared another map of the Chhay Areng valley, showing the community land assigned to the Chumnoab and Pralay communes (see Map 8.)[236] WA prepared this map, stated that it was the “final community area map,” and that it had been “integrated by the Provincial State Land Management Committee into the zonation of the Southern Cardamom National Park.”[237]

Map 8. Map of community land in Chumnoab and Pralay communes in Areng Valley prepared by Wildlife Alliance, May 2016 Source: Wildlife Alliance letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, Annex 1B

Human Rights Watch asked WA why it had two versions of the community land in the Chhay Areng valley.[238] WA acknowledged that “the two maps are different maps although it is at the same location.”[239] WA specified that the map attached to their letter dated December 21, 2022, “is the map of Chhay Areng Valley showing the same communes, but this map superimposes the land surface under Sub-Decree 30.”[240] WA noted that while the map they prepared defined community land for Chumnoab and Pralay communes at 1,799 hectares, the area excised by sub-decree no. 30 for the Chhay Areng valley amounted to 6,111 hectares.[241] WA did not explain how the patrols run by the REDD+ project use these two maps for environmental law enforcement operations, a critical issue given that the size of the community land differs by thousands of hectares depending on the map being used, and patrols treat farming outside community land as encroachment on protected areas.[242]

In its correspondence with Human Rights Watch, WA described using aerial photographs of the Chhay Areng valley that were taken from August 10 to August 30, 2015, to trace the boundaries of the community zone for Map 8.[243] Based on these aerial photographs, WA produced a land use assessment that identified active rice fields or plantations (168 hectares), old rice fields that were “not active” (754 hectares), and old cleared and degraded fields that were “abandoned” (1,056 hectares) (see Map 9 below).[244]

Map 9. WA’s land use assessment of the Chhay Areng valley produced on September 5, 2015. WA classified the fields marked in gray as “abandoned,” and those in yellow as “not active.” Source: WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, Annex 1B

Human Rights Watch overlayed the boundaries of community land in Map 8 to the land use assessment that WA prepared with aerial photographs (Map 9) and found that nearly all the 1,056 hectares of land classed by WA as “abandoned” fields were excluded from the community land (see Geospatial Analysis 1 below).

This raises questions as to how WA determined community farmland when tracing the boundaries of Map 8. Indigenous Chong people practice swidden agriculture: a farmer may work on one plot continually while leaving others fallow for a few years to enable the soil to recover. During this time, grass and other plants will regrow.[245]

Following the same process for Map 7 yields a completely different outcome. If we overlay the community boundaries of Map 7 to WA’s land use assessment (Map 9), Map 7 does include the farmland WA classified as “abandoned” inside the community boundaries, in addition to other areas that were not mapped as either residential land or farmland. The analysis below, produced by the Human Rights Watch Digital Investigations Lab, provides a visual of this comparison (see Geospatial Analysis 1 below).

Human Rights Watch requested information as to how WA had determined these fields were abandoned, including specifically whether it had consulted the farmers that cultivated these fields.[246] WA wrote that “old and degraded fields that are abandoned represent cleared fields that are not in use for a long period of time and are being abandoned due to the invasion of tall grass.”[247] WA also wrote they conducted “ground survey works … in the six villages of Prolay [Pralay] and Chumnoab communes, with participation from district, commune, and village authorities, the district land management department, the forestry administration, Wildlife Alliance and villagers, which was discussed with the local people well in advance before being classified as abandoned farmland.”[248] WA did not answer whether it had consulted the farmers that cultivated the fields it classified as abandoned.

Geospatial Analysis 1. Comparison of Chumnoab and Pralay commune boundaries to land use analysis prepared by WA in September 2015 Source: WA letter to Human Rights Watch, December 21, 2022, p. 4; WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, Annex 1B, p. 8 and p. 18.

In November 2023, Human Rights Watch interviewed traditional authorities who were part of the Chong Community Committees in 2016. They said they had not been consulted about the decision to classify these fields as abandoned and had not seen the maps resulting from WA’s survey until Human Rights Watch showed these maps to them.[249]

The testimonies that Human Rights Watch obtained in Chhay Areng valley in 2022 support the allegation that Chong residents were abruptly prohibited from cultivating farmland they had come to rely on and that they considered part of their ancestral territory. Chong residents told Human Rights Watch that conflict with WA often flared up when they returned to the farmland they had left fallow, and that these conflicts began around 2016.

“Pov,” a resident of Chumnoab commune and father of two, said, “I’ve been farming turmeric and bananas on the same land for 14 years. [In March 2022] Wildlife Alliance came to cut down the banana trees. There was no warning or discussion prior to the destruction.” He said he saw five or six Khmer men in WA uniform walking past his house and into his farmland. He added that it was not difficult to recognize them “because they drive around here all the time.” They cut down around 400 trees. “I may end up not growing anything this year… I’m completely dependent on farming so I don’t really know what I’m going to do… I haven’t complained, I don’t have anyone to [complain to] and I have no hope.”[250]

“Sothy,” a mother of four residing in Chumnoab commune, said she and her family worked together on three plots ranging between one and half a hectare. They farmed rice, pumpkin, cucumber, and other vegetables to provide for their needs and to share with family and friends in their village. “My husband was there when they came: WildAid, the military police, and MOE rangers,” she said about the incident in 2022, “he saw them burning the [rice] crop and he fled through the forest.” “Everybody is banned from entering the forest but many people have farmland there,” she told Human Rights Watch. Speaking to the impact on their family, Sothy said “I don’t have a grain of rice this year, I’m borrowing money to buy food… I dare not return.”[251]

“Chea,” a young woman from Pralay commune, told Human Rights Watch that in March 2021, when she was pregnant with her third child, she was arrested on her farm.[252] Chea said that she was farming her “ancestors’ land.”[253]

Chea said she was with her son and her daughter, both under 10-years-old at the time, on the family’s farm, when five men arrived. One was a foreigner, and the rest were Cambodians. She said some carried guns. The men told her to get on the back of the motorbike of the foreigner or she would be handcuffed. The children also got on the back of one of the men’s motorbikes, and they were dropped in front of the family home, which is on the side of the road that cuts across her village – no adults were home to look after the children at the time, Chea said.[254]

Chea was told she would be taken to the village chief’s house. But the foreigner continued driving past the house. When he slowed down the motorbike at a corner, she jumped out:

I was so worried about the baby. I put a knee and elbow down to protect my belly from the fall and I scraped my skin off. … Villagers saw me getting arrested and they followed us. [When she jumped off] The village chief and his wife grabbed me and so did the foreigner… I went into the village chief’s house. The [other villagers] were blocking the entrance. The WildAid [ranger] couldn’t get in.[255]

“Prak,” Chea’s husband, said: 

I only found out after she was released. I was so scared. I had to borrow money to take her to Koh Kong [the provincial capital] immediately to do an ultrasound. We spent about 300 or 400,000 riel [US$100] in total in food and hospital bills. We didn’t ask for help or complain after it happened. We’re just normal villagers, we don’t dare.[256]

Prak added, “We grow coconut, banana, rice, mango. If we don’t do it, how are we supposed to eat?”[257]

In correspondence with Human Rights Watch, WA stated that Chea was caught encroaching on a protected area.[258] WA provided the GPS coordinates of where she was apprehended.[259]

The Human Rights Watch Digital Investigations Lab plotted the GPS coordinates to assess them in relation to the disparate boundaries shared by WA and the boundaries of land excised by sub-decree no. 30 (see Geospatial Analysis 2 below.) Chea’s farmland is inside the excised land, inside the boundaries of what was defined as “Areng Community Zone” in Map 7 shared by WA, and inside the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project’s Project Zone. Her farm was outside the “community zone” as defined in Map 8 prepared by WA (see Geospatial Analysis 2 below.) Such discrepancy lends further credence to community members’ distress and confusion about unclear boundaries and the related impacts of the REDD+ project on their farmland.

Geospatial Analysis 2. Chea’s farmland in relation to the disparate community zone boundaries shared by WA. The map on the left shows that Chea’s farmland is inside the Community Zone as defined on Map 7, while the map on the right places it outside of the Community Zone as defined on Map 8. Sources: WA letter to Human Rights Watch, December 21, 2022, p. 4; WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, Annex 1B, p. 18; Open Development Cambodia.

In their response to Human Rights Watch, WA stated that Chea had not informed the all-male team that apprehended her that she was three-months pregnant. They also explained that the male member riding with Chea was “unaware of exactly which house belonged to the Village Chief, [and] he rode a short distance past the house.”[260] In Human Rights Watch’s view, in addition to the confusion around boundaries, WA’s procedures to tackle actions WA alleges to be “illegal,” including due process and methods of detention, should be rights-respecting and gender responsive, in line with international human rights standards. WA omitted from their description of the incident that the patrol also took Chea’s children into custody and dropped them at her house unsupervised.

Human Rights Watch did not disclose Chea or Prak’s identities or identifying information to WA. However, Human Rights Watch learned from WA that on August 2, 2023, WA staff and two Cambodian government officials went to find Chea at her home.[261] They provided Human Rights Watch a printed “testimonial letter” with a thumbprint of Chea.[262] According to this “testimonial letter,” Chea reportedly said the following:

I would like to confirm that on April 11, 2021, I was clearing the forest to expand my crop plantation. I was stopped by rangers from Chhay Areng Patrol Unit. They explained to me that I was not allowed to clear the forest in this location because I was far away from the village zone boundary. They asked me to accompany them to the Village Chief house to sign a Contract for non-reoffence.[263]  

Such statements could be used in court during a prosecution against Chea. In addition, these actions identified the witness to Cambodian government officials as someone who was interviewed by Human Rights Watch. In Human Rights Watch view, WA’s actions put Chea and Prak at heightened risk of reprisals from Cambodian authorities.

On the substance of her “testimonial,” whether or not Chea “expanded” her farmland to an area that is “far away from the village zone boundary” depends on the maps and boundaries being used, which are contradictory and disputed. As Human Rights Watch’s geospatial mapping shows, Chea’s farmland falls within the area that sub-decree no. 30 sought to remove from the Southern Cardamom National Park.

Chong Indigenous People in O’Som Commune

Wildlife Alliance… don’t help poor people at all, they just destroy our livelihood. I lost all our family’s money because of them.


– Indigenous Chong Resident (R15) of O’Som commune[264]

West of Chhay Areng valley is O’Som commune, in Veal Veng district, Pursat province. Three of the villages in O’Som commune, were included in the Project Zone of the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project: Chhay Louk, Kien Chongruk, and Osom.[265] In 2016, a part of O’Som commune was included in the Southern Cardamom National Park, based on the map of the commune provided by Wildlife Alliance (see the reproduction of Map 3 below.) The rest of the commune is split between the Central Cardamom National Park and Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, meaning the commune straddles three protected areas.

Map 3. O’Som commune in Veal Veng district, Pursat province. Source: WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, Annex 8; annotation showing Voa Pen added by Human Rights Watch Digital Investigations Lab based on interviews and georeferenced images collected in Voa Pen.

Voa Pen is roughly the area along the western shore of the Stung Atay reservoir, on the border of the REDD+ Project Zone.[266] A government official in O’Som commune, an older person who has lived there since 1979, said that land in Voa Pen has been farmed at least since 1993. During the 1980’s, there was fighting between the Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese troops that sometimes spilled into O’Som, pushing people to relocate to Voa Pen, the official said. In the early 1990’s, a group of families also relocated to Voa Pen to avoid Vietnamese and Cambodian troops that were often stationed in O’Som.[267] An older Chong Indigenous woman born in O’Som also said that the area has been farmland for at least three decades, despite farmers being at times displaced by armed conflict.[268]

“Boran,” a man in his mid-50s, settled in O’Som commune in 1999.[269] He married “Sok,” a Chong Indigenous woman, who is now in her mid-40s. They have five children and live in O’Som commune.[270]

To support themselves, the couple farmed rice, peanuts, avocado, banana, and cassava on four hectares of land in Voa Pen that Sok inherited from her grandfather when they married, in addition to a small papaya farm behind their house. Sok said the land belongs to her ancestors. “It’s my own family land. … In the 1980’s and 1990’s it was difficult to farm because of the war, so the land was left fallow for some time,” she said.[271]

Boran said that in 2019, MOE rangers with WA staff cut down hundreds of their banana trees without warning. He said the second time the rangers came, he was at the farm and they told him that the land belonged to the MOE and Wildlife Alliance. After he left, the patrol later dismantled and burned down his hut. “Everything was destroyed,” he said.[272]

Despite this, Boran and Sok continued farming the plot in Voa Pen. In August 2019, MOE rangers and gendarmes arrested Boran at his house in O’Som commune. “They made me stand in front of a chainsaw and took a picture of me. It was used in court,” he said. “The chainsaw wasn’t even [mine], it was taken from a nearby farm and [I] was forced to stand next to it as they took a picture.”[273] He was arrested for “digging and moving the soil, encroaching and clearing forest land, set forest fire and bulldozing forestland to claim ownership” and put in pre-trial detention.[274] 

“I didn’t even know for two days that my husband was arrested because I was farming [in Voa Pen],” said Sok. “He was here [at home in the village]. I couldn’t believe it. I had no idea why he would be arrested.”[275]

Sok said she had to sell the papaya farm to afford the trips to prison and the lawyer for Boran. She visited him in jail as frequently as she could to deliver food, but the monsoon season made things difficult. “I had to push the motorbike along the muddy road to get to Pursat. Every time I had to give 50,000 riels to the guards – you paid inside and outside,” she said.[276]

When Human Rights Watch interviewed them, neither Boran nor Sok had a clear understanding of the judicial process they had been through. For example, neither knew whether he had been convicted. According to court documents reviewed by Human Rights Watch, Boran was released on bail in March 2020, when the trial and final outcome was still pending.[277] During his total nine months in jail, he shared a cell with 10 other people and received one saucepan of rice per meal and one watery soup per day, he said.[278]

Sok said, “WildAid [WA] … don’t help poor people at all, they just destroy our livelihood. I lost all our family’s money because of them.”

“Heng,” (pseudonym) a Chong Indigenous man with eight children also from O’Som commune, said that he had been farming a plot in Voa Pen with his son since 2012. The plot, on which the family grows bananas, mangoes, and avocadoes, had been passed on to them by a relative who had been farming it for several decades. [279]

In 2019, MOE rangers forced him to sign an agreement, Heng said. They told him he would be able to continue farming the land, but he felt “in reality this was a trick.” He said one day the rangers took him and his son to an MOE station in O’Som in the morning and later to Koh Kong.[280]

WA told Human Rights Watch that occupants would sometimes be asked “to sign contracts of non-reoffense” by rangers, that this was a “form of soft law enforcement” jointly established by the MOE and the Ministry of Justice, which “confirms the individual has been warned their actions are illegal.”[281] However, Human Rights Watch found that this document can later be used in court against the signatory during a criminal prosecution, as was the case with Heng. Human Rights Watch views this practice as effectively amounting to asking people to sign a document that incriminates them without giving them access to legal counsel.

Heng was charged with “digging and moving the soil, encroaching and clearing forest land, set forest fire and bulldozing forestland to claim ownership.”[282] He was detained without trial for nine months and released on bail with his son in March 2020. The charges against him are pending. “Ponlok,” Heng’s wife, says the ordeal cost the family around US$40,000. She said she had to sell some of their land and borrowed $15,000 from Hatha, a microfinance institution, to make weekly trips to prison, bring the men food, and pay the prison guards to let her visit.[283] The family is struggling to repay the debt.

“I felt so [much] regret that I could not work, I couldn’t be with my family and lost my land,” Heng said. “No one told me [of my first hearing date] so I missed it.”[284] “My son who was arrested is married with two children – his family also went into in debt,” Ponlok said.[285]

Several other residents in O’Som commune said that WA and MOE rangers, sometimes also in combination with gendarmes, had destroyed their crops and sought to evict them from land they had cultivated for many years. They were often not aware that the same people were behind the REDD+ project that their village was included in.

Another resident who also cultivates land in Voa Pen said, “both MOE and MPs [gendarmes] carry guns and they cock their guns at us and point them at us to threaten us, [telling us] do not run, drop your [farming] tools. … I witnessed it happening to my brother.”[286] He alleged that his farming hut had been burned down by Wildlife Alliance rangers.[287] His sister, 30 years old, said that WA and MOE rangers cut down half of her banana trees and four or five avocado trees.[288] “People who came were armed,” she said. “They pointed guns at my mother and brother.”[289]

 “WildAid has been harassing us here in O’Som for a decade now. That seems to be their mission, to harass the people of O’Som for farming their lands,” a government official in O’Som commune told Human Rights Watch.[290]

Criminalization of Sustainable Forest Products Collection

This is my livelihood and tradition, and I am doing nothing wrong.


– Indigenous Chong resident of O’Som commune[291] 

Some Chong Indigenous residents also reported being arrested and detained by MOE and WA rangers for collecting sustainable forest products in the Project Area of the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project, specifically while they tapped resin trees. Tapping resin trees is a traditional activity practiced by many Indigenous communities across Cambodia. The same resin tree can be tapped for decades, and tapping does not lead to the tree’s destruction.[292]

“Chamson,” a middle-aged Chong Indigenous man residing in O’Som commune said he was collecting resin about a kilometer east from the Tranack Tralach MOE ranger station.[293] The location would be south of O’Som and within the REDD+ project’s Project Area boundaries.

“Military police [gendarmes], environment officers, a foreigner wearing a WildAid uniform and a Khmer [man] wearing a WildAid uniform approached me and two other men who were camping while collecting resin,” he said.[294] The officials ran towards them yelling that they were being arrested. “They gathered all the materials at the camp and destroyed them, including rice, plates, saucepans, clothes, hammocks,” he said. [295]  The officials told them they were “illegally destroying the forest,” walked them to the main road, and left them there.[296]

Chamson said his ancestors also practiced tapping: “This is my livelihood and tradition, and I am doing nothing wrong.”[297]  

“Ke,” a 35-year-old Chong Indigenous man residing in O’Som commune, said that he was twice detained for tapping resin in the same area as Chamson.[298] The first time, he was detained with Chamson in 2018. The second time was in February 2021:

When they first rushed into the camp they hit me in the back with their gun. … I told them, “Brother, I am not going to run away.” They destroyed everything I had with me — even the clothes on my back. All I was left with was my underwear. They destroyed our resin as well by pouring it out. The foreigner who worked for WildAid was the one who ordered my clothes to be burned. … I was detained in the soldier station of Trapeang Tralach for two days and one night. I only had my underwear on, and they gave me no water or food. I was also handcuffed and very uncomfortable. … When they released me, I was very thirsty and hungry and all I had was my underwear.[299]

Wildlife Alliance and MOE rangers have also harassed Chong Indigenous people residents for collecting forest products by searching their homes in Chhay Areng valley, according to residents and a government official interviewed by Human Rights Watch.

“Last year, Wildlife Alliance began checking peoples’ houses and it caused a lot of concern,” a local official told Human Rights Watch in April 2022. “I spoke to them for almost a day about the complaints [he had received from locals], I told them I didn’t want them harassing poor people just for collecting forest products, I can see some changes in their behavior since then,” he said.[300]

A Chong Indigenous leader in Chhay Areng valley also spoke of the searches in a separate interview. “When they first came they would go around inspecting peoples’ houses,” she told Human Rights Watch, “we didn’t feel we could oppose them because they were armed… Usually there was always one foreigner during the raids who had an interpreter, but those two [foreigner and interpreter] were never armed. It was frequent.”[301]

The project description of the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project submitted to Verra, acknowledged that all 29 villages in the Project Zone “are adjacent to the Project Area, and while the community members have tenure to private land outside of the Project Area, they also have some customary use rights within the Project Area.”[302] (emphasis added)

In August 2023, WA wrote to Human Rights Watch that “the residents of villages that are located inside the Project Zone can access non-timber forest products (NTFPs) inside the Project Area such as bamboo, rattan, mushroom, fruits, honey, vines, medicinal plants…etc” and that “the Chong people have not lost access to resources as a result of the establishment of the SCRP boundaries.”[303]

In November 2023, WA wrote to Human Rights Watch that “all community members are going to the forest routinely to freely collect NTFPs. The only exception is Timber collection, for which an MOE permit is required. WA would like to reiterate that the project did not stop Indigenous people from collecting NTFPs as their traditional practice” (sic).[304] WA added that the Cardamom Forest Protection Program “has never conducted an arbitrary search of any individual’s home,” and that their searches followed Cambodian domestic laws.[305]

At the same time, the project description of the REDD+ project submitted to Verra states that “the entirety of the Project Area will be within Core and Conservation Zones.”[306] (Zoning of the protected areas that constitute the REDD+ project is described as a project activity.) Under the 2008 Protected Areas Law, the “Core Zone” of a protected area is where access is prohibited, except for officials and researchers to conduct studies of the environment and natural resources.[307] As per the law, no collection of forest products is allowed in the Core Zone.

On March 18, 2022, the MOE and WA concluded the zoning map of the Southern Cardamom National Park – which makes up most of the Project Area of the REDD+ project – and they zoned most of the park as a Core Zone (see Map 10.)[308] Similarly, a substantial part of the Tatai Wildlife Sanctuary was also zoned as a Core Zone by the MOE and WA in 2021 (see Map 11.)[309] In order to be final, the zoning maps must still be adopted by sub-decree.[310]

If adopted by sub-decree, these zoning decisions by WA and the MOE would formally prohibit Indigenous people from collecting forest products in most of the Project Area of the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project. Based on the testimony received by Human Rights Watch, however, it appears this prohibition is already being enforced by the Cardamom Forest Protection Program overseen by WA.

Map 10. Southern Cardamom National Park Zoning Map concluded by the MOE and WA in March 18, 2022 Source: WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, Annex 1, p. 14.
Map 11. Tatai Wildlife Sanctuary Zoning Map concluded by the MOE and WA on August 31, 2021 Source: WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, Annex 1, p. 16.

V. Standards Applicable to the SCRP

Cambodian Law and Policies

Throughout Cambodia’s history, smallholders under the authority of village chiefs, or elders in the case of Indigenous communities, would clear forested areas for subsistence and semi-subsistence purposes.[311] In 2001, as Cambodia emerged from three decades marked by armed conflict, crimes against humanity, and genocide that caused mass internal displacement, a Land Law was instituted to formalize land tenure relations.

Customary practices regarding access, use, and signal ownership of agricultural lands have not transitioned smoothly into legal tenure under the current government.[312] Where those with wealth and close links to the authorities have been able to secure titles for their land, the claims of Indigenous people have often been marginalized.[313] This has been further complicated by the barriers Indigenous people face in accessing justice and receiving formal land titles.[314]

In addition to struggling to secure a recognition of their claims, marginalized communities are often subject to forced evictions.[315] “Housing and land disputes continue to be the root cause of most protests and human rights violations in the country,” a report by the UN secretary-general noted in 2015.[316] The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), a Cambodian nongovernmental organization, found that land grabbing had affected more than 5,000 families between 2019 and 2021.[317]

The sub-sections below provide a brief overview of key regulations that are relevant to understand overlapping land tenure claims in the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project, emphasizing the rights of Indigenous peoples in protected areas as codified under Cambodian law.

Land Law (2001) 

The 2001 Land Law sets out a system of land classification and land ownership rights, eight years after the 1993 Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia first recognized the right to private property. The Land Law states that all claims to land prior to 1979 — the year that the Khmer Rouge regime was deposed by the Vietnamese army — are nullified.[318] Possession of immovable property may be established where individuals can prove continued, peaceful, uncontested possession of the public land for at least five years between 1989 and 2001.[319]

The 2001 Land Law introduced provisions by which Indigenous communities can gain legal collective title over land. Individuals who meet the “ethnic, cultural and social criteria of an indigenous community”—a vague definition—are eligible for registration and those lands where they “carry out traditional agriculture” are eligible for a communal title (articles 24, 25). The law specifically recognizes shifting cultivation and the fallow lands of Indigenous people (article 25). Furthermore, the Land Law protects the rights of Indigenous communities to traditional lands even when they are yet to be registered (article 23). Of 455 Indigenous communities across the country, only 35 have received communal title and all over lands significantly smaller than what they requested.[320] 

Law on Forestry (2003)

The 2003 Law on Forestry establishes the Forestry Administration (FA) within the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) and applies to all forests.[321] It makes provisions for the legal use of forest products by local communities, including by protecting their right to harvest forest products for “customary subsistence.”[322]

Protected Areas Law (2008)

The 2008 Protected Areas Law further specifies how protected areas are to be managed, conserved and developed by the MOE.[323] “Management of the protected area shall have to guarantee the rights of the local communities, Indigenous ethnic minorities and the public to participate in the decision-making on the sustainable management and conservation of biodiversity.”[324] The law also recognizes “access to traditional uses, local customs, beliefs, and religions of the local communities, and indigenous ethnic minority groups residing within and adjacent to the protected areas.”[325] 

Under the law, each protected area must be divided into four zones:

  1. “Core Zone,” where access is prohibited, except by General Department of Administration for Nature Conservation and Protection (GDANCP) officials and researchers to conduct studies of the environment and natural resources (after receiving permission from the MOE);
  2. “Conservation Zone,” where the collection of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) is permitted;
  3. “Sustainable Use Zone,” where investment and development is permitted; and
  4. “Community Zone,” where local communities and Indigenous people may have farms and paddy fields, subject to authorization from the MOE.[326]

No clearance or building is allowed in the core or conservation zones. A development within the sustainable use or community zones is subject to approval of the government upon request of the MOE.[327] The law does not specify how its provisions may or may not apply to communities that existed decades prior to the protected area, which is the case of most communities in the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project.

Sub-Decree 83 on Indigenous lands (2009)

Sub-decree 83, issued in 2009, aims “to provide indigenous communities with legal rights over land tenure, to ensure land tenure security, and to protect collective ownership by preserving the identity, culture, good custom and tradition of each indigenous community.”[328] Crucially, it establishes that Indigenous communities may obtain collective land titles, instead of individual parcels of land, that should include residential land, farmland, spiritual forests, and burial sites.[329] It also recognizes that Indigenous communities should be able to harvest “forest sub-products and source for water use… according to its tradition,” in other state lands by entering into an agreement with “relevant trustee institutions of state land.”[330]

National REDD+ Strategy 2017-2026

REDD+ is a framework created in 2013 by the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP19) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Its initials stand for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation.[331] Carbon credits issued from REDD+ projects are bought and sold in carbon markets.

In May 2017, the Royal Cambodian Government adopted a National REDD+ Strategy for the 2017-2026 period, followed by social and environmental safeguards for REDD+ projects in 2019.[332] The strategy commits to ensuring “full and effective participation of relevant stakeholders, including those most vulnerable, such as local communities, indigenous peoples and women” in Cambodia’s REDD+ projects.[333]

Cambodia’s national REDD+ strategy establishes seven safeguard principles, including:

A.      … [Consistency] with provisions of the relevant treaties and international conventions to which Cambodia is a ratified party.[…]
C. The REDD+ Strategy will be implemented in accordance to the rights of recognition of, and respect for the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities; including the rights to non‐discrimination, traditional knowledge and culture, self‐determination, benefit sharing and collective tenure rights.[…]
D. The right to participate, in an effective manner including Free Prior Informed Consent for relevant indigenous peoples and local communities will be recognized and promoted […]

Currently, there are three active REDD+ projects in Cambodia, according to the government’s REDD+ database.[334] In July 2022, the MOE and Wildlife Alliance signed an agreement for the development of a new REDD+ project in Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary in O’Som commune, Veal Veng district, Pursat province.[335] The latter is not listed in the government’s database.

International Human Rights Law and Standards

Cambodia’s International Human Rights Obligations

Article 31 of the 1993 Cambodian Constitution enshrines international human rights obligations into domestic law and policy.[336] The direct applicability of international human rights norms in Cambodian courts was restated by a decision of the Constitutional Council in 2007.[337]

Right to Information and Participation

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which authoritatively interprets the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),[338] to which Cambodia is party, stated in its General Comment No. 34 that ICCPR article 19 provides for everyone’s right of access to information held by public bodies.[339] The Human Rights Committee stated that in order to “give effect to the right of access to information, States parties should pro-actively put in the public domain government information of public interest,” ensuring access is easy, prompt, effective, and practical.[340]

With respect to environmental information, principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, adopted by states at the UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, asserts that “each individual should have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities… and activities in their communities and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available.”[341]

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas, which Cambodia voted in favor of at the UN General Assembly in 2018, calls upon states to uphold the right of peasants and other people working in rural areas to “have access to and to use in a sustainable manner the natural resources present in their communities that are required to enjoy adequate living conditions. …   They also have the right to participate in the management of these resources.” [342]

Furthermore, the declaration calls upon states to “promote the participation, directly and/or through their representative organizations, of peasants and other people working in rural areas in decision-making processes that may affect their lives, land and livelihoods.”[343] It also states that:

Peasants and other people working in rural areas who have been arbitrarily or unlawfully deprived of their lands have the right, individually and/or collectively, in association with others or as a community, to return to their land of which they were arbitrarily or unlawfully deprived, […], and to have restored their access to the natural resources used in their activities and necessary for the enjoyment of adequate living conditions, whenever possible, or to receive just, fair and lawful compensation when their return is not possible.[344]

Right to Adequate Housing

The right to housing is enshrined in article 11 the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), to which Cambodia is party, as part of the right to an adequate standard of living. The ICESCR states explicitly that the right to an adequate standard of living includes the right to “adequate housing.” [345]

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), which provides authoritative interpretations of the ICESCR, stated in its General Comment No. 4 that protections on the right to housing apply whether or not individuals hold formal land title: tenure “takes a variety of forms, including … occupation of land or property,” and “[n]otwithstanding the type of tenure, all persons should possess a degree of security of tenure which guarantees legal protection against forced eviction, harassment and other threats.”[346] The committee also called upon states to increase “access to land by landless or impoverished segments of the society” as “a central policy goal.”[347]

International human rights law prohibits forced evictions.[348] The CESCR has defined forced evictions as “the permanent or temporary removal against the will of individuals, families and/or communities from the homes and/or land which they occupy, without the provision of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protection.”[349]

The UN special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing has characterized forced evictions as “gross violations of a range of internationally recognized human rights, including the human rights to adequate housing, food, water, health, education, work, security of the person, freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and freedom of movement.”[350]

Governments are prohibited from conducting forced evictions themselves and are obligated to ensure through law and regulation that private parties do not carry out forced evictions. These obligations apply regardless of whether residents have formal land title entitling them to the land they occupy. In the event a person or group of people are subject to a forced eviction, they are entitled to compensation. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and UN Human Settlements Programme (UN Habitat) in 2014 issued a fact sheet that stated:

Compensation should be provided for any economically assessable damage, as appropriate and proportional to the gravity of the violation and the circumstances of each case, such as: loss of life or limb; physical or mental harm; lost opportunities, including employment, education and social benefits; material damages and loss of earnings, including loss of earning potential; moral damage; and costs of legal or expert assistance, medicine and medical services, and psychological and social services.
Cash compensation should in principle not replace real compensation in the form of land and common property resources. Where land has been taken, the evicted should be compensated with land commensurate in quality, size and value, or better.[351]

International human rights law recognizes that evictions may be legitimate in exceptional circumstances. In 1997, the CESCR’s General Comment No. 7 set out the procedural protections that should be afforded to individuals or communities subject to involuntary resettlement:

(a) an opportunity for genuine consultation with those affected;
(b) adequate and reasonable notice for all affected persons prior to the scheduled date of eviction;
(c) information on the proposed evictions, and, where applicable, on the alternative purpose for which the land or housing is to be used, to be made available in reasonable time to all those affected;
(d) especially where groups of people are involved, government officials or their representatives to be present during an eviction;
(e) all persons carrying out the eviction to be properly identified;
(f) evictions not to take place in particularly bad weather or at night unless the affected persons consent otherwise;
(g) provision of legal remedies; and
(h) provision, where possible, of legal aid to persons who are in need of it to seek redress from the courts.[352]

Furthermore,

Evictions should not result in individuals being rendered homeless or vulnerable to the violation of other human rights. Where those affected are unable to provide for themselves, the State party must take all appropriate measures, to the maximum of its available resources, to ensure that adequate alternative housing, resettlement or access to productive land, as the case may be, is available.[353]

In 2007, the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing also developed a set of “Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-Based Evictions and Displacement.”[354] Those principles detail practical measures that states can take prior to, during, and after evictions to ensure that the rights of affected people are respected.

The OHCHR and UN Habitat assessment notes that:

Compensation for housing, land and property should be provided before the eviction. It can be in addition to other measures, including relocation. […] Fair and just compensation for all losses should include any losses of personal, real or other property or goods, including rights or interests in property and any of the economic and social losses incurred by those evicted.[355]

Rights of Indigenous Peoples

International human rights law provides for the right to a specific way of life as part of the right to culture.[356] The ICCPR and the ICESCR recognize the right to self-determination and rights of minorities to their own culture.[357] The right to culture has been interpreted to require legal protection for particular ways of life negatively impacted by changes to the natural environment, including such traditional activities as fishing or hunting.[358]

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) recognizes the right to own property individually and communally without discrimination.[359] The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination's General Recommendation on the rights of Indigenous peoples also calls on states to “recognize and protect the rights of indigenous peoples to own, develop, control and use their communal lands, territories and resources.”[360]

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007, with Cambodia voting in favor.[361] The UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has said that this declaration, although not a treaty, is “an important standard for the treatment of indigenous peoples.” It says that states should prohibit “any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing [Indigenous peoples] of their lands, territories or resources.”[362] Under the declaration, states have a responsibility to respect, protect, and promote the rights of Indigenous peoples, including their rights to participate in decision making in matters that would affect their rights and be consulted in good faith to “obtain their free, prior, and informed consent.”[363]  

In 2018, the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples published a study on the right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), based on an assessment of how FPIC had been interpreted and applied by domestic courts, regional human rights courts and UN human rights bodies. This assessment provided guidance on the concrete, constitutive elements needed to uphold FPIC, including the following:

·       “Consultation and participation should be undertaken at the conceptualization and design phases and not launched at a late stage in a project’s development, when crucial details have already been decided.”[364]

·       “The context or climate of the process should be free from intimidation, coercion, manipulation […] and harassment, ensuring that the consultation process does not limit or restrict indigenous peoples’ […] rights.”[365]

·       “Indigenous peoples should determine how and which of their own institutions and leaders represent them.”[366]

·       “The substantive content of the information should include the nature, size, pace, reversibility and scope of any proposed project or activity […]; the reasons for the project; the areas to be affected; social, environmental and cultural impact assessments; the kind of compensation or benefit-sharing schemes involved; and all the potential harm and impacts that could result from the proposed activity.”[367]

·       “Indigenous peoples must have the opportunity, moreover, to consent to each relevant aspect of a proposal or project. A generalized or limited statement of consent that, for example, does not expressly acknowledge different phases of development or the entire scope or impact of the project will not be considered to meet the standard for consent. Consent must be ‘ongoing’ with express opportunities and requirements for review and renewal set by the parties.”[368]

Rights of Victims of Abusive Prosecutions

Under the ICCPR, the government of Cambodia has an obligation to uphold the right of every person to “be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.”[369] Cambodia also needs to ensure every accused person’s right to “a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law” in the determination of any criminal charge against them.[370]

Furthermore, “when a person has by a final decision been convicted of a criminal offence and when subsequently his conviction has been reversed or he has been pardoned on the ground that a new or newly discovered fact shows conclusively that there has been a miscarriage of justice, the person who has suffered punishment as a result of such conviction shall be compensated according to law.”[371]

The ICCPR also mandates that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention.”[372] In the event a person is arbitrarily deprived of their liberty by an unlawful arrest or detention, they “shall have an enforceable right to compensation.”[373]

Right to an Effective Remedy

Under the ICCPR, Cambodia has an obligation to uphold the right to an effective remedy for victims of human rights violations such as forced evictions and arbitrary arrests and prosecutions. Victims have the right to have their claims determined by competent judicial, administrative or legislative authorities or any other competent authority, which should also enforce such remedies.[374] Cambodia’s politicized judicial system, however, controlled by the ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) under the long-time prime minister, Hun Sen, lacks independence and impartiality and is inaccessible to ordinary victims of rights abuses seeking remedies for injustices perpetrated by the powerful.[375]

Nature Conservation and Human Rights

Acknowledging the devastating toll of harmful conservation initiatives, the UN special rapporteur on the environment and human rights released in August 2021 a series of recommendations to reconcile efforts to protect nature and states’ obligations to uphold and advance human rights. The rapporteur calls upon states, among others, to:

(12) Place Indigenous Peoples, Afro-descendants, local communities, peasants, rural women, and rural youth—along with their traditional knowledge and sustainable nature governance practices—at the forefront of efforts to identify, designate, and manage new and existing areas important for cultural and biological diversity […].
(13) Ensure Indigenous Peoples’ and other rural rights holders’ access to and use of land, water, wildlife, plants, and sacred sites for survival, subsistence and small-scale commercial livelihoods, medicinal, cultural, and spiritual purposes, with specific arrangements established through inclusive, gender-sensitive consultation processes that are in accordance with the right of free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC). Reform conservation and protected area legislation as necessary to ensure these protections for all Indigenous Peoples and other rural rights holders whose livelihoods and cultures depend on areas designated for conservation protection.
(14) Provide swift, just, fair, and equitable investigation and redress for past conservation driven violations of the rights of Indigenous Peoples, Afro- descendants, local communities, peasants, and women and youth within these groups related to the creation and/or management of protected areas, including through restitution of rural rights holders’ lands, territories, and associated resource rights. When this is not possible, provide just, fair, culturally acceptable, and equitable compensation. Unless otherwise freely agreed upon by the Indigenous Peoples or other rural rights holders concerned, compensation should take the form of lands, territories, and resources equal in quality, size and legal status, or of monetary compensation or other appropriate redress.[376]

In July 2022, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples released a report on conservation initiatives and the rights of Indigenous peoples. The rapporteur noted that:

There can be no shortcuts to sustainable and effective conservation; it needs to be done together with those who have protected these areas of rare biodiversity for thousands of years. Indigenous peoples must be recognized not only as stakeholders, but as rights holders in conservation efforts undertaken in their lands and territories. Their way of life and knowledge need to be preserved and protected, together with the lands that they inhabit. Respect for the rights of indigenous peoples, and not their exclusion from their territories in the name of conservation, will ultimately benefit the planet and its peoples as a whole.[377]

Human Rights Responsibilities of Private Actors

Business enterprises have human rights responsibilities under the 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UN Guiding Principles), guidance on the Gender Dimensions of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (OECD MNE Guidelines).[378] While non-binding, they provide important guidance.

The UN Guiding Principles and the OECD MNE Guidelines apply to private organizations involved in commercial activities, regardless of how they are structured.[379] In complaints brought to the OECD National Contact Points–the grievance redress mechanism for the OECD MNE Guidelines–against multistakeholder initiatives or certification programs, including the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and Bonsucro, authorities have admitted them, applying the OECD MNE guidelines to such entities.[380] 

According to the UN Guiding Principles, business enterprises, including private organizations like Wildlife Alliance, Wildlife Works Carbon, and Verra, should respect human rights.[381] The responsibility to respect human rights means that these organizations should have “policies and processes appropriate to their size and circumstances” to:

  • Avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities (both actions and omissions), and to address such impacts when they occur.[382]
  • Prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts.[383]
  • “Enable the remediation of any adverse human rights impacts they cause or to which they contribute” and use their business leverage to do so. [384] 
  • “Establish or participate in effective operational-level grievance mechanisms for individuals and communities who may be adversely impacted.”[385] Such grievance mechanisms “support the identification of adverse human rights impacts as part of an enterprise’s ongoing human rights due diligence” and are effective.[386] 
  • “Communicate externally… particularly when concerns are raised on behalf of affected populations,” and “provide information that is sufficient to evaluate the adequacy of the enterprise’s response.”[387]

Verra’s Standards

The Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project sought accreditation under Verra’s Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCB) standard, the Sustainable Development Verified Impact Standard (SD VISta), and the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS). These are voluntary standards designed by private entities and administered by Verra. While VCS is the baseline minimum certification that projects need to undergo for Verra to issue verified carbon units (VCUs) to their accounts, the CCB and SDVista are entirely optional to issue credits with Verra.

Free, Prior, and Informed Consent

Table 5. Summary of consultation and participation safeguards in Verra’s standards[388]

 

Consultation and participation

Verra’s Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCB) standard

·       Indigenous peoples should be involved in the project through full and effective participation, including access to information, consultation, participation in decision-making and implementation, and FPIC.

·       Requires that FPIC is obtained from Indigenous peoples’ whose statutory or customary property rights are affected by a project.

·       For FPIC, consultations with Indigenous peoples must take place sufficiently in advance of any authorization or commencement of activities and respecting the time requirements of their decision-making processes.

Sustainable Development Verified Impact Standard (SD VISta)

 

·       Indigenous peoples are entitled to influence project design and implementation through an effective consultation process.

·       Consultation should be conducted through representatives who are designated by Indigenous peoples themselves in accordance with their own procedures.

·       Requires that FPIC is obtained of Indigenous peoples’ whose property rights are affected by a project.

Verified Carbon Standard (VCS)

 

·       A consultation with “local stakeholders” should be held prior to the project’s validation process, allowing stakeholders to evaluate impacts, raise concerns about potential negative impacts and provide input on the project design. Based on input, the project proponent will need to either update the project design or justify why updates are not appropriate.

The CCB standard considers “communities” and “other stakeholders” as those groups with rights to participate in the design and execution of the project.

  • “Communities” are defined as “all groups of people — including Indigenous Peoples, mobile peoples and other local communities — who derive income, livelihood or cultural values and other contributions to well-being from the project area at the start of the project and/or under the with-project scenario […].”[389]
  • “Other stakeholders” are “all groups other than communities who can potentially affect or be affected by the project activities and who may live within our outside the project zone.”[390]

In line with the foregoing, Indigenous peoples residing within or near the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project’s boundaries are either “communities” or “other stakeholders,” with corresponding entitlements. Audits shared with Verra that evaluated the REDD+ project’s compliance with CCB standards confirmed this interpretation as early as 2018.[391]

The CCB standard requires that communities and other stakeholders:

 

are involved in the project through full and effective participation, including access to information, consultation, participation in decision-making and implementation, and Free, Prior and Informed Consent [FPIC] […]. Timely and adequate information is accessible in a language and manner understood by the Communities and Other Stakeholders. Effective and timely consultations are conducted with all relevant stakeholders and participation is ensured, as appropriate, of those that want to be involved.[392]

The CCB standard also provides definitions for key operational concepts stated in these requirements:

  •  “Full and effective participation” is defined as “[m]eaningful influence of all relevant rights holder and stakeholder groups who want to be involved throughout the process, and includes access to information, consultation, participation in decision-making and implementation and free, prior and informed consent.”[393]
  • “Free, Prior and Informed Consent” is defined through its individual components, with:
    • “Free” meaning “no coercion, intimidation, manipulation, threat and bribery.”
    • “Prior” meaning “sufficiently in advance of any authorization or commencement of activities and respecting the time requirements of their decision-making processes.”
    • “Informed” meaning that the information provided to participants covers “the nature, size, pace, reversibility and scope of any proposed project or activity,” “the locality of the areas that will be affected” and “a preliminary assessment of the likely economic, social, cultural and environmental impact, including potential risks and fair and equitable benefit sharing,” among others.[394]
    • “Consent” means that “there is the option of withholding consent and that the parties have reasonably understood it.”[395]

The SD VISta requires that “effective consultation shall be used to enable project stakeholders, including all stakeholder groups, to influence project design and implementation.” [396] Stakeholders are defined as “any person who can potentially be affected by the project,” though those considered to be affected “in very limited ways… need not be defined as stakeholders,” and a ‘stakeholder group’ consists of “individual stakeholders who derive similar income, livelihood, well-being and/or cultural values from the project.”[397] The SD VISta also requires that the “free, prior and informed consent shall be obtained of those whose property rights are affected by a project through a transparent, agreed process.”[398]

“All communications, consultations and participatory processes shall be undertaken with stakeholders directly or through their legitimate representatives,” SD VISta also requires, and representatives should be “designated by the groups themselves in accordance with their own procedures.”[399]

Verra recommends that project developers refer to the manual “Free, Prior and Informed Consent in REDD+” to guide the implementation of the standards.[400] This manual instructs project developers that Indigenous peoples “need” to know:

That they have a right to map their boundaries and negotiate them to mutual satisfaction;
That they have the right to maintain control of maps, and determine what information they contain and who has access to the information;
That they have the right to decline participation in transferring their knowledge into a written or recorded form;
That they have a right to advocate for legal recognition of these boundaries and their rights over the land/carbon; and
That people not directly involved in mapping exercises need to be informed about and consent to the boundaries and rights holders identified, especially neighboring communities.[401]

The VCS has very limited and inadequate requirements. The VCS calls for a consultation with “local stakeholders” to be held prior to the project’s validation process, allowing “stakeholders” to evaluate impacts, raise concerns about potential negative impacts and provide input on the project design.[402] However, it does not specify whether the consultation should take place prior to approval of the project and commencement of project activities and does not require consent from affected communities for the project to move forward, regardless of how the project impacts their rights. Despite these inadequate safeguards, Verra allows project to be listed on its registry and issue credits even if VCS is the only certification they have sought and obtained.[403]

Resolution of Land Disputes

Table 6. Summary of land disputes safeguards in Verra’s standards

 

Land disputes

Verra’s Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCB) standard

·       The project should demonstrate it will not prejudice the outcome of an unresolved dispute relevant to the project over lands, territories, and resources in the Project Zone.

·       The project should put in place a grievance redress procedures that are able to address disputes with Indigenous peoples during project planning, implementation, and evaluation with respect to lands, territories and resources.

Sustainable Development Verified Impact Standard (SD VISta)

·       The project should establish a clear feedback and grievance redress procedure to address disputes with stakeholders that may arise during project planning and implementation.

Verified Carbon Standard (VCS)

 

·       The project proponent shall identify potential negative environmental and socio-economic impacts, and take steps to mitigate them.

·       The project proponent shall establish mechanisms enabling local stakeholders to raise concerns about negative impacts during the project’s implementation. Based on their input, the project proponent will need to either update the project design or justify why updates are not appropriate.

Verra’s CCB standard requires that the project:

Demonstrate that no activity is undertaken by the project that could prejudice the outcome of an unresolved dispute relevant to the project over lands, territories and resources in the Project Zone” (emphasis in original).[404]

The CCB standard also requires that “Feedback and Grievance Redress Procedures are established and functional,” as part of the project. [405] These procedures should be able to “address disputes with Communities and Other Stakeholders that may arise during project planning implementation and evaluation with respect but not limited to, Free, Prior and Informed Consent, rights to lands, territories and resources, benefit sharing, and participation.”[406] Both the complaints and the response to complaints, including measures to redress grievances, “must be documented and made publicly available.”[407]

SD VISta requires that projects “establish a clear feedback and grievance redress procedure to address disputes with stakeholders that may arise during project planning and implementation,” and that the “grievance redress procedure shall take into account traditional methods that stakeholders use to resolve conflicts.”[408]

The VCS standard has no specific safeguards on land disputes, but it requires more generally for the project proponent to identify “potential negative environmental and socio-economic impacts,” and take steps to mitigate them. Project proponents should also have mechanisms in place to enable local stakeholders to raise concerns about negative impacts during implementation.[409]

Land Rights

Table 7. Summary of land rights safeguards in Verra’s standards

 

Land rights

Verra’s Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCB) standard

·       Protects Indigenous peoples’ land rights, even when their customary land rights are not formally recognized by governments.

·       Prohibits involuntary removal or relocation of Indigenous people.

·       Prohibits forced relocation of activities important to Indigenous peoples’ culture or livelihood.

Sustainable Development Verified Impact Standard (SD VISta)

·       Prohibits involuntary removal or relocation of Indigenous peoples.

·       Prohibits forced relocation of activities important to Indigenous peoples’ culture or livelihood.

·       Requires project to respect Indigenous peoples’ customary and statutory rights to resources and tenure.

·       Requires restitution or compensation for financial and non-financial costs of the loss of land to any parties whose lands or access to resources have been or will be negatively affected by project.

·       If appropriate, requires projects to take measures to help secure statutory rights for traditional communities.

Verified Carbon Standard (VCS)

 

·       The project proponent shall identify potential negative environmental and socio-economic impacts, and shall take steps to mitigate them.

Verra’s CCB standard provides specific definitions for who may be considered rights bearers: 

  • “Property Rights Holders” are defined as “the statutory and customary tenure, use, access and/or management rights to lands, territories and resources and the entities that have those rights, either individually or collectively.” [410]
  • “Customary rights (to lands, territories and resources)” are defined as “patterns of long-standing community land and resources usage in accordance with Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ customary laws, values, customs, and traditions, including seasonal or cyclical use, rather than formal legal title to land and resources issued by the State.” [411] 

The CCB standard explicitly protects communities’ land rights, even when those are not reflected in formal legal titles issued by the state.

The CCB standard requires that the project:

recognizes respects [sic] and supports rights to lands, territories and resources, including the statutory and customary rights of Indigenous Peoples and others within Communities and Other Stakeholders. The Free, Prior and Informed Consent [FPIC] […] of relevant Property Rights Holders has been obtained at every stage of the project.
Project activities do not lead to involuntary removal or relocation of Property Rights Holders from their lands or territories, and does not force them to relocate activities important to their culture or livelihood. Any proposed removal or relocation occurs only after obtaining Free, Prior and Informed Consent from the relevant Property Rights Holders.[412]

The SD VISta requires that “all stakeholders’ customary and statutory rights to resources and tenure shall be respected in the course of project design and implementation.” [413] The SD VISta’s definition of customary rights is identical to the one of the CCB standard above.[414] “Where appropriate, projects shall take measures to help secure statutory rights for traditional communities,” the SD VISta also requires.[415] It does not specify which situations would be considered appropriate.

Similar to the CCB standard, the SD VISta prohibits involuntary removals or relocations of property rights holders. “Where any relocation of habitation or activities important to [property rights holders’] culture or livelihood is undertaken within the terms of an agreement,” SD VISta states, “project developers shall demonstrate… that the agreement was made with the free, prior and informed consent of those concerned and includes provisions for just and fair compensation.”[416]

Furthermore, “appropriate restitution or compensation for financial and non-financial costs of the loss of land (e.g., loss of culture or loss of business opportunity) shall be allocated to any parties whose lands or access to resources have been or will be negatively affected by a project.”[417]

Further, the SD VISta requires that the project maps statutory and customary tenure; use; access; management rights to lands, territories and resources directly affected by project activities including collective rights and overlapping or conflicting rights.[418]

 

Recommendations

To the Royal Cambodian Government

  • Recognize in the RGC’s National REDD+ Strategy that Indigenous peoples’ collective rights include the ownership of carbon stored in their traditional territories.
  • Ensure that any current or planned REDD+ projects contribute to advancing the rights of Indigenous peoples to an adequate standard of living as defined in the International Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which Cambodia ratified in 1992, particularly through benefit sharing agreements that distribute the revenue from the sales of carbon credits.
  • Ensure that the management of protected areas, including the zoning of protected areas, is done in partnership with Indigenous peoples living in or near them, and respects their human rights, supports their livelihoods, and affirms Indigenous peoples’ rights to land and culture.
  • Ensure that REDD+ projects do not move forward without the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples who would be impacted by proposed projects.
  • Assign adequate resources to the Ministry of Rural Development, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, and the Ministry of Environment to ensure the prompt demarcation of Indigenous territories, in line with sub-decree no. 83 and international standards.

To Wildlife Alliance

  • Engage an international human rights law expert and form an external committee of experts, including Indigenous Peoples’ organizations, to evaluate the organization’s current policies and practices and help develop a human rights policy and code of conduct to be enforced across all of Wildlife Alliance’s operations. 
  • End forced evictions carried out by the Cardamom Forest Protection Program that result in loss of livelihoods for residents of the SCRP Project Zone and develop rights-respecting alternatives to address potential encroachment on protected areas, including prior notice, the opportunity to challenge the decision in court or through impartial arbitration, and partnering with legal aid organizations to ensure Indigenous peoples and rural communities accused of encroachment have access to quality legal aid.
  • End the practice of asking community members to sign “contracts of non-reoffence,” in which individuals may be pressured to sign documents that incriminate them without having access to legal aid that enables them to understand the purpose or implication of the document, or the opportunity to challenge the allegations stated in the document.
  • End the criminalization of collection of sustainable forest products by the Cardamom Forest Protection Program in the SCRP Project Area.
  • Create a remediation plan, with support from a human rights law expert, and in consultation with affected individuals and communities that, at a minimum, includes:
    • Identifying any communities that may not yet have been recognized as Indigenous peoples within the project area and project zone to proactively support their recognition as Indigenous peoples and related rights;
    • Signing binding benefit sharing agreements with all Indigenous peoples, including Indigenous Chong people, as well as rural communities impacted by the SCRP;
    • Securing land rights for Indigenous people impacted by the SCRP, including informing Indigenous people of their right to seek and obtain a communal land title that recognizes their residential land, farmland, spirit forests, burial sites, and other sites of cultural significance, and covering the expenses of administrative procedures required to obtain the communal land title for those communities who request it;
    • Compensating any victims of forced evictions, arbitrary detention, and unjust imprisonment;
    • Ensure that the implementation of the remediation plan is adequately funded by WA to meet its stated goals, including through revenue generated by the sale of carbon credits by the SCRP;
    • Revamp grievance redress policies to ensure these are aligned with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights’ effectiveness criteria and embed anti-retaliation policies in consultation with rights groups and Indigenous Peoples’ organizations.
  • Hold accountable any staff of the Cardamom Forest Protection Program, a program overseen by WA that pairs WA advisors with MOE rangers and gendarmes, implicated in human rights abuses as well as any WA staff implicated in planning, coordinating, or executing these abuses, including through internal disciplinary proceedings that may lead to permanent removal of that staff.
  • Regularly train Wildlife Alliance staff on the organization’s responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and ensure their performance is measured against these standards and that there are disciplinary processes in place that can be used to hold any staff accountable if they participate in, contribute to, or enable breaches of those standards.
  • Ensure that any technical assistance provided to the Ministry of Environment or other Royal Cambodian Government institutions on land use planning results in recommendations that are rights-respecting and contribute to reducing land tenure insecurity, and advance the right to an adequate standard of living as well as Indigenous peoples’ rights.

To Wildlife Works Carbon (WWC)

  • Contribute to funding the remediation plan for any human rights abuses committed in the context of the SCRP.
  • Ensure that any future investment or involvement in a REDD+ project is conditional on the project having carried out a process that has sought and obtained the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples impacted by the project in line with international human rights standards and best practice standards on the rights of Indigenous peoples.
  • Ensure that any future investment or involvement in a REDD+ project is preceded by a rigorous due diligence process to assess the risk of negative human rights impacts, including by vetting implementing organizations’ human rights record, and the continued investment and involvement is periodically assessed as part of ongoing human rights due diligence. 
  • Make investments in any REDD+ projects conditional upon free, prior, and informed consent from affected Indigenous peoples, equitable benefit sharing agreements with affected communities and government recognition of affected Indigenous peoples’ traditional territories and their ownership of the carbon stored in their lands.

To Verra

For Verra’s Review of the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project

  • Make issuances of new credits, retirement of existing credits, or renewal of accreditations for the SCRP conditional on:
    • Comprehensive remediation for individuals and communities adversely impacted by the SCRP, including through financial compensation;
    • Mapping and titling of Indigenous Chong communal land by the Royal Cambodian Government in line with sub-decree no. 83;
    • Formal recognition by the government of Indigenous collective ownership of the carbon stored in their traditional territories;
    • Consultation process that upholds international human rights standards and best practice in relation to the right to free, prior, and informed consent, including by enabling residents to revisit the existing design, boundaries, activities, and project implementer of the project;
    • Conclusion of binding benefit sharing agreements with the communities in the Project Zone;
    • Accountability for individuals involved in the human rights abuses perpetrated in the SCRP.
    • Verifying all the listed benefits including quality schools, health posts, drinking water supplies, and solar electrification and their maintenance in every commune as listed in letters provided by Community Chiefs to Human Rights Watch.  
  • Contribute to compensation for any victims of forced evictions and loss of livelihoods resulting from the implementation of the SCRP, including through the revenue that Verra has derived from the listing, accreditation, and issuance of credits for the SCRP.
  • Conduct an independent external review by an expert panel into how and why Verra’s validation and verification process failed to identify any human rights abuses taking place in the SCRP; publish the full results and recommendations of the review.

For Verra’s Operations

  • Make accreditation under any of Verra’s standards conditional upon the conclusion of formal benefit sharing agreements with affected communities and the formal recognition of Indigenous peoples’ ownership of the carbon stored in their traditional territories.
  • Update Verra’s standards to better define compliance with the right to free, prior and informed consent by project proponents and implementers, including by:
    • Requiring project proponents and implementers to provide third-party support for affected communities to develop their own understanding of proposed projects prior to consultation taking place;
    • Stating clearly that consultations should take place prior to the approval, design, and boundaries of a project being decided, and that affected communities should have verifiable opportunities to shape these;
    • Defining the three fundamental issues that the population in the Project Zone should be asked to provide its consent to prior to the commencement of activities: (1) consent to discuss a proposed project; (2) consent to the design of a proposed project; and (3) consent to the implementation of the proposed project;
    • Defining the minimum percentage of the population in the Project Zone who should consent to a proposed project for the outcome of an FPIC process to be legitimately considered as consent;
    • Ensure that audits against Verra’s standards also monitor the effective implementation of the benefit sharing agreements that are concluded with affected communities;
    • Ensure that project proponents and implementers are required to address audit findings in a reasonable timeframe that does not unduly delay redress when findings flag issues that may compromise the protection of individual or collective rights.
  • Review Verra’s existing grievance mechanism to ensure that:
    • It is accessible in multiple languages;
    • Grievances can be lodged and effectively addressed free of payment;
    • Multiple avenues are available to complainants and that these avenues are responsive to the realities of rural communities where REDD+ projects accredited by Verra often take place;
    • Complainants have access to sufficient and adequate information about how and when their grievances may be addressed; and
    • At least a summary of those complaints lodged and their resolution by Verra are disclosed to the public in a timely manner.
  • Make public Verra’s procedures to protect the safety of people who use Verra’s grievance mechanism to submit complaints about ongoing REDD+ projects accredited by Verra.
  • Require that buyers disclose information about their plans to reduce emissions in line with the goal of halving global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and how the carbon credits they purchase will contribute towards fulfilling those plans.
  • Set aside a percentage of all revenues earned through Verra’s certifications into a Remediation Fund to support remediation when Verra-certified projects are implicated in rights abuses.
 

Acknowledgments

Human Rights Watch is thankful to the community members who bravely shared their stories and who continue to organize to bring about an Indigenous-led conservation model in Cambodia. Human Rights Watch is also grateful to the Cambodian human rights organization LICADHO, whose staff provided input to this report based on their longstanding expertise on Cambodian criminal law and land disputes.

This report was written by Luciana Téllez Chávez, senior environment and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. It is based on research conducted jointly by Téllez Chávez and a Cambodian consultant with extensive experience in forestry and land rights in the country (name withheld at their request).

Victor Hertel, consultant to Human Rights Watch, Carolina Jordá Álvarez and Léo Martine, senior geospatial analysts at the Digital Investigations Lab of Human Rights Watch, conducted the geospatial analysis featured in this report. Gabriela Ivens, head of Open Source Research at Human Rights Watch, and the Cambodian consultant scrubbed Facebook for videos and photographs taken in communities inside the SCRP. Devon Lum, assistant researcher for the Digital Investigations Lab, verified and archived the photographs and videos found on social media that are referenced in this report.

The report was reviewed and edited by Richard Pearshouse, environment and human rights director; two researchers from the Asia division (names withheld); Arvind Ganesan, economic justice and rights director and a second member of the economic and justice rights division (name withheld at their request); Juliana Nnoko-Mewanu, senior women’s rights researcher; and Sam Dubberley, digital investigations managing director, all at Human Rights Watch. Babatunde Olugboji, deputy program director, and James Ross, legal and policy director, provided programmatic and legal reviews respectively.

 

 

[1] Voun Dara, “REDD+ soon one-third of protected land,” Phnom Penh Post, September 5, 2022, https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/redd-soon-one-third-protected-land (accessed December 23, 2023).

[2] Some projects use the measurement of one metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent, also referred to by its acronym “MtCO2e.” One metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent represents an amount of a greenhouse gas (GHG) whose atmospheric impact has been standardized to that of one unit mass of carbon dioxide (CO2), based on the global warming potential of the gas. The carbon dioxide equivalent measure allows project developers to represent the reductions, avoidances or removals of various greenhouse gases their projects reportedly generate through one standardized measure that conveys the potential to drive global warming of such emissions if they had been released.

[3] Thales A.P. West et al., “Action needed to make carbon offsets from forest conservation work for climate change mitigation,” Science Magazine, 24 August 2023, Vol 381, Issue 6660, https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.ade3535 (accessed September 14, 2023), pp. 873-877; Haya, B. K. et al., “Quality assessment of REDD+ carbon credit projects,” September 15, 2023, Berkeley Carbon Trading

Project, https://gspp.berkeley.edu/research-and-impact/centers/cepp/projects/berkeley-carbon-

trading-project/REDD+ (accessed October 27, 2023).

[5] Wildlife Works Carbon, “Southern Cardamoms REDD+ Project” (project description submitted to Verra for validation under the VCS and CCB standard), March 8, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=45881&IDKEY=098klasmf8jflkasf8098afnasfkj98f0a9sfsakjflsakjf8d863269899 (accessed August 11, 2022), p. 11.

[6] Article 4 of the Royal Government of Cambodia Protected Areas Law, 2008. A version in English of the law is available at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) FAOLEX Database, see https://www.fao.org/faolex/results/details/en/c/LEX-FAOC081966/ (accessed December 20, 2023).

[7] Wildlife Works Carbon, “Southern Cardamoms REDD+ Project” (project description submitted to Verra for validation under the VCS and CCB standard), March 8, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=45881&IDKEY=098klasmf8jflkasf8098afnasfkj98f0a9sfsakjflsakjf8d863269899 (accessed August 11, 2022). p. 11.

[8] Additional information about WA’s activities is available on their website and their Wikipedia page: https://www.wildlifealliance.org/ (accessed September 28, 2023); https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wildlife_Alliance (accessed September 28, 2023).

[9] Ibid.

[10] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, p. 1.

[11] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, p. 4. WA stated: “From 2002-2016, Wildlife Alliance served as the technical partner for most of the zoning process, supporting the Forestry Administration and later the Ministry of Environment when in 2016 most of the Cardamom’s forests were designated as Protected Areas under the jurisdiction of the MOE.”

[12] Ibid., p. 13. WA stated it “provides legal support to the Ministry of Environment rangers tasked with giving penalties to the offenders, including verifying law enforcement documents on offenders that are written by the MOE Judicial Police Officers. Wildlife Alliance also makes sure legal penalties are not reduced in exchange for bribes, and seized wildlife are not resold or timber stolen.”

[13] Wildlife Works Carbon, “Southern Cardamoms REDD+ Project” (project description submitted to Verra for validation under the VCS and CCB standard), March 8, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=45881&IDKEY=098klasmf8jflkasf8098afnasfkj98f0a9sfsakjflsakjf8d863269899 (accessed August 11, 2022), p. 11. WA reiterated it is the “project implementer of the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project,” in correspondence with Human Rights Watch, see WA letter to Human Rights Watch, October 14, 2022. The Wildlife Works Carbon CEO told Human Rights Watch that WA “designed and implemented all project activities on the ground,” see Wildlife Works Carbon letter to Human Rights Watch, October 9, 222.

[14] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, p. 13; WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, Annex 9; WA website, https://www.wildlifealliance.org/cardamom-protection/ (accessed September 28, 2023).   

[15] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, p. 13; WA website, https://www.wildlifealliance.org/cardamom-protection/ (accessed September 28, 2023).

[16] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, p. 13.

[17] The figure was given in a promotional post of the project by the marketing firm Everland made on December 18, 2023, see https://x.com/EverlandEarth/status/1736810671222743409?s=20 (accessed December 21, 2023).

[18] See a March 2021 briefing given by the WWC Global Policy Director, https://forestcarbonpartnership.org/sites/fcp/files/Day%202-%20PS%20Requirements-Breakout-Carbon%20Tenure.pdf (accessed November 24, 2022).

[19] Letter by WWC CEO Mike Korchinsky to Human Rights Watch, October 9, 222.

[20] Call with WWC CEO Mike Korchinsky, March 15, 2023. Mr. Korchinsky said: “we did it in August of 2017. So that's when we conducted training for WA and the training was in Phnom Penh. So we went to Phnom Penh and we trained their staff locally in how you conduct free, prior and informed consent for a project and in how you monitor the forest.” The auditing firm SCS Global Services told Human Rights Watch that it was WWC that contracted them to conduct the validation of the SCRP under the VCS and CCB standards and WWC’s website shows it has a Cambodia country team of four people. SCS Global Services letter to Human Rights Watch, May 5, 2023, p. 1; WWC Team website https://www.wildlifeworks.com/team (accessed August 2, 2023).

[21] Everland, “Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment to Sign Contracts with International Corporations for Over 10 Million Tonnes of Verified Emission Reductions,” PR Newswire, November 15, 2022, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/cambodias-ministry-of-environment-to-sign-contracts-with-international-corporations-for-over-10-million-tonnes-of-verified-emission-reductions-301677743.html (accessed December 21, 2023).

[22] Green Money, “Wildlife Works Carbon Launches Everland to Accelerate High Impact Forest Conservation Projects that Fight Climate Change,” https://greenmoney.com/wildlife-works-launches-everland-to-accelerate-high-impact-forest-conservation-projects-that-fight-climate-change/ (accessed October 20, 2023).

[23] Everland, https://everland.earth/what-we-do/ (accessed October 20, 2023).

[24] Wildlife Works Carbon, “Southern Cardamoms REDD+ Project” (project description submitted to Verra for validation under the VCS and CCB standard), March 8, 2018 https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=45881&IDKEY=098klasmf8jflkasf8098afnasfkj98f0a9sfsakjflsakjf8d863269899 (accessed August 11, 2022), p. 2.

[25] Verra, “CCB Program Definitions, Version 3.0,” June 21, 2017, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/CCB_Program_Definitions_v3.0.pdf, p. 12 (accessed July 19, 2022).

[26] Ibid., p. 13.

[27] Wildlife Works Carbon, “Southern Cardamoms REDD+ Project” (project description submitted to Verra for validation under the VCS and CCB standard), March 8, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=45881&IDKEY=098klasmf8jflkasf8098afnasfkj98f0a9sfsakjflsakjf8d863269899 (accessed August 11, 2022), p. 14.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid., p. 15. The document states that for 32 percent farming is the main occupation.

[30] Botum Sakor and Peam Krasop were created in 1993 by Royal Decree, but the rest were created in 2016, 16 months after the beginning of the SCRP. The Tatai Wildlife Sanctuary was created in May 2016 by sub-decree 80; the Central Cardamom National Park was created in May 2016 by sub-decree 81; the Southern Cardamom National Park was created in May 2016 by sub-decree 89. The Tatai Wildlife Sanctuary was previously “Protected Forest”, see Protected Forest for South West Elephant Corridor Sub-Decree No. 65, 2004. The Southern Cardamom National Park was previously state land, though multiple villages were established on it. The Project Area incorporates only parts of the Tatai Wildlife Sanctuary, the Southern Cardamom National Park and the Botum Sakor National Park, see Wildlife Works Carbon, “Southern Cardamoms REDD+ Project” (project description submitted to Verra for validation under the VCS and CCB standard), March 8, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/app/projectDetail/VCS/1748 (accessed August 11, 2022), p. 58.

[31] Aster Global, “Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project Validation Report” (version 3.1), August 25, 2021, https://registry.verra.org/app/projectDetail/VCS/1748 (accessed August 19, 2022), p. 33. The REDD+ project staff stated in the audit that “the correct size of the Project Area and Project Accounting Area [are] of 493,582.6 ha and 442,871 ha, respectively,” the accounting area is encompassed in the Project Area, but the area of the Project Zone where 29 villages are located would be in addition to these. Thus, the REDD+ project is larger than half a million hectares.

[32] Human Rights Watch letter to WA, February 1, 2023, question 5.

[33] In a call with Human Rights Watch staff on March 15, 2023, the WWC CEO said that WWC staff had written multiple proposals to investors between 2012 and 2016 to help fund the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project, Mr. Korchinsky said: “we started the process of trying to help them make a project happen, and so between 2012 and 2016, we [Mike Korchinsky and Brian Williams] wrote lots of proposals to lots of people ... So, we wrote a bunch of proposals to actually try and help find financing for them to do the carbon project that they and the government had wanted to do in this area between 2012 and 2016.”

[34] Wildlife Works Carbon, “Southern Cardamoms REDD+ Project” (project description submitted to Verra for validation under the VCS and CCB standard), March 8, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=45881&IDKEY=098klasmf8jflkasf8098afnasfkj98f0a9sfsakjflsakjf8d863269899 (accessed August 11, 2022) p. 32. At p. 33, the project description also notes that “Wildlife Alliance commenced REDD+ activities prior to [January 1, 2015],” but do not specify the start date for those activities.

[35] SCS Global Services, “Verification Report for the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project,” Issued November 30, 2018, Revised February 25, 2019, https://registry.verra.org/app/projectDetail/VCS/1748 (accessed December 21, 2023), pp. 45-46.

[36] Ibid.

[37] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, August 8, 2023, p. 5.

[38] Ibid., Annexes 18-28.

[39] WA stated that activities to delineate lands used by the communities and their farmlands begun in 2012 and continued throughout 2016. WA letter to Human Rights Watch, December 21, 2022, p. 7. WA also stated that between June 2015 and May 2016, they took steps to delineate community land in the six villages in Chumnoab and Pralay communes, in the Chhay Areng valley, and that these boundaries were “integrated by the Provincial State Land Management Committee into the zonation of the Southern Cardamom National Park,” see WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, Annex 1B; WA letter to Human Rights Watch, August 08, 2023, p. 7. WA also shared minutes of a meeting held between WA staff and government officials in October 2015 to finalize the boundaries of residential land and farmland plots in Thmor Donpove commune, WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, Annex 8 - Thmor Dounpov Commune.

[40] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, p. 6.

[41] Wildlife Works Carbon, “Southern Cardamoms REDD+ Project” (project description submitted to Verra for validation under the VCS and CCB standard), March 8, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=45881&IDKEY=098klasmf8jflkasf8098afnasfkj98f0a9sfsakjflsakjf8d863269899 (accessed August 11, 2022), p. 10.

[42] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, p. 7.

[43] The website of this ecotourism initiative states it was established in January 2016, see http://www.areng-valley.org/en/aboutus (accessed September 14, 2023).

[44] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, p. 7; WA letter to Human Rights Watch, August 8, 2023, annex 27.

[45] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, p. 7; WA letter to Human Rights Watch, August 8, 2023, annexes 20, 27, 28. The monitoring report of the project published in 2022 stated that five youth had received bursaries, see Wildlife Works Carbon, “The Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project - 3rd Monitoring Period Report,” May 3, 2022, p. 163.

[46] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, August 8, 2023, annexes 26 and 22.

[47] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, p. 7; WA letter to Human Rights Watch, August 8, 2023, Annexes 17-28.

[48] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, August 8, 2023, annexes 19, 22, and 26.

[49] Wildlife Works Carbon, “Southern Cardamoms REDD+ Project” (project description submitted to Verra for validation under the VCS and CCB standard), March 8, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=45881&IDKEY=098klasmf8jflkasf8098afnasfkj98f0a9sfsakjflsakjf8d863269899 (accessed August 11, 2022), p. 7.

[50] Wildlife Works Carbon, “The Southern Cardomom (sic) REDD+ Project – Monitoring and Implementation Report,” (version 2.0), August 1, 2021, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=50518&IDKEY=0097809fdslkjf09rndasfufd098asodfjlkduf09nm23mrn87869664322 (accessed December 13, 2022), p. 56.

[51]Ibid., p. 53.

[52] PR Newswire, "Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment to Sign Contracts with International Corporations for Over 10 Million Tonnes of Verified Emission Reductions,” Everland, November 15, 2022, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/cambodias-ministry-of-environment-to-sign-contracts-with-international-corporations-for-over-10-million-tonnes-of-verified-emission-reductions-301677743.html (accessed February 27, 2024).

[53] Human Rights Watch letter to Wildlife Alliance, September 27, 2022; Human Rights Watch letter to the MOE, September 28, 2022.

[54] WA, “Open Letter to Stakeholders,” unknown date, https://www.wildlifealliance.org/open-letter-from-wildlife-alliance-to-its-stakeholders/#addendum (accessed February 27, 2024); Videoconference call with WWC staff, including the WWC CEO Mike Korchinsky, March 15, 2023.

[55] Sometime between January 5, 2024 and February 27, 2024, Wildlife Alliance added a new section to their “Open Letter to Stakeholders” originally posted on December 19, 2023, the new section is titled “Addendum – Benefit Sharing”, according to web pages preserved by the Internet Archive. January 5 record of the Internet Archive:  https://web.archive.org/web/20240105052204/https:/www.wildlifealliance.org/open-letter-from-wildlife-alliance-to-its-stakeholders/ (accessed February 27, 2024), February 27 record of the Internet Archive: https://web.archive.org/web/20240227004502/https:/www.wildlifealliance.org/open-letter-from-wildlife-alliance-to-its-stakeholders/ (accessed February 27, 2024).

[56] WA, “Open Letter to Stakeholders,” unknown date, https://www.wildlifealliance.org/open-letter-from-wildlife-alliance-to-its-stakeholders/#addendum (accessed February 27, 2024). This information was not communicated to Human Rights Watch in any of the letters sent by WA.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Wildlife Works Carbon, “Southern Cardamoms REDD+ Project” (project description submitted to Verra for validation under the VCS and CCB standard), March 8, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=45881&IDKEY=098klasmf8jflkasf8098afnasfkj98f0a9sfsakjflsakjf8d863269899 (accessed August 19, 2022), p. 91.

[59] Rhett A. Buttler, “Could REDD help save an embattled forest in Cambodia?”, Mongabay, October 28, 2016, https://news.mongabay.com/2016/10/could-redd-help-save-an-embattled-forest-in-cambodia/ (accessed August 30, 2023).

[60] Wildlife Works Carbon, “Southern Cardamoms REDD+ Project,” (project description submitted to Verra for validation under the VCS and CCB standard), March 8, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=45881&IDKEY=098klasmf8jflkasf8098afnasfkj98f0a9sfsakjflsakjf8d863269899 (accessed September 29, 2023), p. 155.

[61] Wildlife Works Carbon, “The Southern Cardamom REDD+ Projec Monitoring Reportt,” November 26, 2018, section 4.3.1.1. “Project Activity Implementation Status”, subsection 11 “Community-based Eco-Tourism Development.” Copy on file with Human Rights Watch.

[62] Additionally, in its 2018 submission to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Cambodian government acknowledged there are at least 1,064 Chong people living in Koh Kong province and 774 in Pursat province, the report is available at https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CERD%2fC%2fKHM%2f14-17&Lang=en (accessed September 14, 2022).

[63] See for example, Sarah Milne (2015) Cambodia's Unofficial Regime of Extraction: Illicit Logging in the Shadow of Transnational Governance and Investment, Critical Asian Studies, 47:2, 200-228, DOI: 10.1080/14672715.2015.1041275

[64] Daniel Pye and May Titthara, “The Calculus of Logging,” The Phnom Penh Post, October 10, 2014, https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/calculus-logging (accessed September 15, 2023); Sarah Milne, “Cambodia’s Unofficial Regime of Extraction: Illicit Logging in the Shadow of Transnational Governance and Investment,” Critical Asian Studies, 47:2, May 19, 2016, pp. 210 – 217, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14672715.2015.1041275 (accessed September 15, 2023); Global Witness, “The Cost of Luxury: Cambodia’s Illegal Trade in Precious Wood with China,” February 2015, https://www.globalwitness.org/documents/17788/the_cost_of_luxury_1.pdf (accessed December 4, 2023).

[65] Charlie Campbell, “In Cambodia, China Fuels Deadly Illegal Logging Trade,” Time, May 14, 2013, https://world.time.com/2013/05/14/in-cambodia-illegal-logging-unabated-on-anniversary-of-leading-activists-death/ (accessed September 15, 2023).

[66] Human Rights Watch interview with two elders (W1 and W2), O’Som commune, Veal Veng district, Pursat province, on April 26, 2022.

[67] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, Annex 2.

[68] Order 01 BB has been the subject of extensive writing due to its lasting impact on land rights in Cambodia, see for example: Cambodian Center for Human Rights, “Cambodia: Land in Conflict, An Overview of the Land Situation,” December 2013, https://cchrcambodia.org/storage/posts/1642/2013-12-12-reports-eng-cambodia-land-in-conflict-an-overview-of-the-land-situation.pdf (accessed December 21, 2023); Mekong Land Research Forum, “Moving Forward: Study on the Impacts of the Implementation of Order 01BB in Selected Communities in Rural Cambodia,” June 2013, https://focusweb.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Student-Volunteers-Report_-ENG.pdf (accessed December 21, 2023), and for the specific impact on Indigenous peoples and how the implementation of Directive 01 BB caused the loss of communal land, see UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), “Country Technical Note on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues – Kingdom of Cambodia,” https://www.ifad.org/documents/38714170/40224860/cambodia_ctn.pdf/02148186-48e9-4c08-bc09-b3565da70afb?t=1703061227028 (accessed December 21, 2023).

[69] As described in the UN IFAD and IWGIA report, “initially, Order 01 included a directive for granting collective property titles to Indigenous communities, but this part was halted as it was considered too costly and time-consuming. Therefore, only individual private titles could be obtained,” see International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), “Country Technical Note on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues – Kingdom of Cambodia,” https://www.ifad.org/documents/38714170/40224860/cambodia_ctn.pdf/02148186-48e9-4c08-bc09-b3565da70afb?t=1703061227028 (accessed December 21, 2023), p. 14. The process for collective land titling under sub-decree no. 83 is described in detail in OHCHR, “Collective land titling in Cambodia – a case for reform,” August 2020, https://cambodia.ohchr.org/iplands/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/CLT-RECOMMENDATION_ENG.pdf (accessed December 21, 2023).

[70] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, Annex 2.

[71] Human Rights Watch letter to WA, November 6, 2023.

[72] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, November 30, 2023, p. 13.

[73] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, Annex 8.

[74] Royal Government of Cambodia, 2008 Protected Areas Law, chapter iv. An English translation of the law is available at the FAOLEX database https://faolex.fao.org/docs/pdf/cam81966.pdf (accessed December 21, 2023).

[75] In July 2022, the Ministry of Environment and WA announced they were launching a new REDD+ project in the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary. It is unclear how it will affect residents of O’Som commune. Tith Kongnov, “Wildlife sanctuary to implement REDD+,” Khmer Times, July 27, 2022, https://www.khmertimeskh.com/501120075/wildlife-sanctuary-to-implement-redd/ (accessed December 4, 2023).

[76] Wildlife Works Carbon, “Southern Cardamoms REDD+ Project,” (project description submitted to Verra for validation under the VCS and CCB standard), March 8, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=45881&IDKEY=098klasmf8jflkasf8098afnasfkj98f0a9sfsakjflsakjf8d863269899 (accessed September 29, 2023), pp. 21-22.

[77] Kalyanee Malm, “Will Cambodia Flood a Sacred and Biodiverse Valley for a Dubious Dam?”, Mother Jones, October 21, 2014, https://pulitzercenter.org/stories/will-cambodia-flood-sacred-and-biodiverse-valley-dubious-dam (accessed August 28, 2023). Kalyanee Malm, “A Threat to Cambodia’s Sacre Forests,” The New York Times, July 30, 2014,

https://pulitzercenter.org/stories/threat-cambodias-sacred-forests (accessed August 28, 2023).

[78] Peter Zsombor, “Hydropower Dam Puts a Way of Life at Risk,” Cambodia Daily, February 28, 2015, https://english.cambodiadaily.com/news/hydropower-dam-puts-a-way-of-life-at-risk-78844/

[79] Cambodian Center for Human Rights, “Legal Analysis of the Charging and Detention of Ven Vorn,” February 16 2016, https://cchrcambodia.org/admin/media/analysis/analysis/english/2016_02_16_CCHR_Legal_Analysis_of_the_Charging_and_Detention_of_Ven_Vorn_ENG.pdf (accessed September 18, 2023).

[80] The Cambodian Center for Human Rights conducted a legal analysis of Ven Vorn’s case and concluded that “his case fits the trend of judicial harassment of land rights activists that has been prevalent in 2015 and more specifically as part of a crackdown on advocacy in the Areng Valley.” See, Cambodian Center for Human Rights, “Legal Analysis of the Charging and Detention of Ven Vorn,” February 16 2016, https://cchrcambodia.org/admin/media/analysis/analysis/english/2016_02_16_CCHR_Legal_Analysis_of_the_Charging_and_Detention_of_Ven_Vorn_ENG.pdf, p. 10 (accessed September 18, 2023). The involvement of Wildlife Alliance is discussed in Mongabay’s reporting, see Rod Harbinson, “Indigenous forest activist released from prison amid Cambodian crackdown,” March 17, 2016, Mongabay, https://news.mongabay.com/2016/03/indigenous-forest-activist-released-from-prison-amid-cambodian-crackdown/ (accessed August 28, 2023).

[81] Rod Harbinson, “Indigenous forest activist released from prison amid Cambodian crackdown,” March 17, 2016, Mongabay, https://news.mongabay.com/2016/03/indigenous-forest-activist-released-from-prison-amid-cambodian-crackdown/ (accessed August 28, 2023).

[82] OHCHR, “Collective Land Titling – a Case For Reform?”, August 2020, https://cambodia.ohchr.org/iplands/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/CLT-RECOMMENDATION_ENG.pdf (accessed December 21, 2023), p. 24.

[83] OHCHR, “Collective Land Titling – a Case For Reform?” August 2020, https://cambodia.ohchr.org/iplands/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/CLT-RECOMMENDATION_ENG.pdf (accessed December 21, 2023), p. 24.

[84] Human Rights Watch interview with three Chong Indigenous leaders, who are current and past community committee members in three villages, November 23, 2023, Krong Chhbar Mon, Kampong Speu.

[85] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, August 8, 2023, p. 6; Rhett A. Butler, “Could REDD help save an embattled forest in Cambodia?”, October 28, 2016, https://news.mongabay.com/2016/10/could-redd-help-save-an-embattled-forest-in-cambodia/ (accessed October 26, 2023).

[86] Human Rights Watch interview with three Chong Indigenous leaders, November 23, 2023, Krong Chhbar Mon, Kampong Speu.

[87] Ibid.

[88] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, August 8, 2023, Annex 29, p. 2.

[89] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, Annex 3, pp. 30-45.

[90] “Initially, Order 01 included a directive for granting collective property titles to Indigenous communities, but this part was halted as it was considered too costly and time-consuming. Therefore, only individual private titles could be obtained,” according to the technical note issued at the time by the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), “Country Technical Note on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues – Kingdom of Cambodia,” https://www.ifad.org/documents/38714170/40224860/cambodia_ctn.pdf/02148186-48e9-4c08-bc09-b3565da70afb?t=1703061227028 (accessed December 21, 2023), p. 14. The process for collective land titling under sub-decree no. 83 is described in detail in OHCHR, “Collective land titling in Cambodia – a case for reform,” August 2020, https://cambodia.ohchr.org/iplands/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/CLT-RECOMMENDATION_ENG.pdf (accessed December 21, 2023). Surveys of Indigenous communal land such as spirit forests and burial sites are conducted under sub-decree no. 83.  

[91] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, Annex 3, pp. 5-6 and p. 36; Annex 8.

[92] Ibid., Annex 3, pp. 5-6 and pp. 9-10.

[93] Inspection Report by Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning, and Construction, November 26, 2013. The investigation was shared by WA with Human Rights Watch, see WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, Annex 3, pp. 9-10.

[94] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, Annex 8.

[95] Ibid.

[96] Human Rights Watch interview with local government official G1 in Chhay Areng valley, April 29, 2022.

[97] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, August 8, 2023, p. 8 and Annex 29; OHCHR, “Collective Land Titling – a Case For Reform?”, August 2020, https://cambodia.ohchr.org/iplands/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/CLT-RECOMMENDATION_ENG.pdf (accessed December 21, 2023), p. 24.

[98] Human Rights Watch interview with resident R1 in Chumnoab commune, Thmor Bang district, Koh Kong province, April 27, 2022.

[99] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, November 30, 2023, p. 4.

[100] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, Annex 1B.

[101] Ibid.

[102] Ibid., p. 17.

[103] One map was shared in a WA letter to Human Rights Watch on December 21, 2022, p. 4; a second map was shared in a WA letter to Human Rights Watch on June 23, 2023, Annex 1B, p. 18. This report analyzes the discrepancy between the two maps and its impact on Indigenous residents’ livelihoods and environmental law enforcement in the section “Impact on Indigenous Livelihoods.”

[104] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, August 8, 2023, p. 8 and Annex 29; OHCHR, “Collective Land Titling – a Case For Reform?”, August 2020, https://cambodia.ohchr.org/iplands/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/CLT-RECOMMENDATION_ENG.pdf (accessed December 21, 2023), p. 24.

[105] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, August 8, 2023, p. 8 and Annex 29, p. 2. In July 2023 – after Verra suspended the issuance of credits for the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project following receipt of a Human Rights Watch letter summarizing preliminary findings– WA made enquiries about the formal recognition of Indigenous status of the villages in the Chhay Areng valley, WA told Human Rights Watch.

[106] Verra, “Who We Are,” https://verra.org/about-verra/who-we-are/ (accessed September 28, 2022).

[107] Voluntary Registry Offsets Database, a database developed by the Berkeley Carbon Trading Project in collaboration with Carbon Direct, available at: https://gspp.berkeley.edu/faculty-and-impact/centers/cepp/projects/berkeley-carbon-trading-project/offsets-database (accessed October 26, 2022). Interview with Verra Chief Executive Officer David Antonioli on the podcast Smarter Markets: Demystifying the Carbon Markets Episode 7, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/smartermarkets/id1541404399?i=1000554543493 (accessed December 14, 2022).

[108] Verra, “A New Era for Verra,” September 17, 2023, https://verra.org/new-era-for-verra/ (accessed December 21, 2023).

[109] The validation, verification, and monitoring reports for the VCS certification of the project are available on Verra registry, see https://registry.verra.org/app/projectDetail/VCS/1748 (accessed December 21, 2023.) Current and older versions of the VCS are available at Verra’s website, see: Verra, “Verified Carbon Standard Rules and Requirements,” https://verra.org/project/vcs-program/rules-and-requirements/ (accessed August 19, 2022).

[110] Verra, “Verified Carbon Standard,” https://verra.org/project/vcs-program/ (accessed October 4, 2022).

[111] The validation reports for the CCB certification of the project are available on Verra registry, see https://registry.verra.org/app/projectDetail/VCS/1748 (accessed December 21, 2023.) Verra, “The CCB Program,” https://verra.org/project/ccb-program/ (accessed August 12, 2022). Verra confirmed the SCRP had been validated under the CCB standard on November 11, 2018. Verra letter to Human Rights Watch, June 20, 2023, p. 4. Prior to the creation of the REDD+ framework, state parties to the UNFCCC endorsed seven safeguards for REDD+ projects, including on good governance, human rights, participation, and informed consent – these have come to be known as the “Cancun Safeguards.” See UNFCCC, “Fact Sheets: Safeguards,” https://redd.unfccc.int/fact-sheets/safeguards.html (accessed July 18, 2022).

[112] The validation reports for the SD VISta certification of the project are available on Verra registry, see https://registry.verra.org/app/projectDetail/VCS/1748 (accessed December 21, 2023.) There is only one version of the SD VISta. See Verra, “The Sustainable Development Verified Impact Standard (SD VISta) Program,” 2019, https://verra.org/project/sd-vista/ (accessed August 12, 2022). Verra confirmed that the SCRP had been validated under the SD VISta on May 11, 2021, Verra letter to Human Rights Watch, June 20, 2023, p. 4.

[113] See Verra, “Updates about the CCB Standard,” July 1, 2015, https://verra.org/updates-about-ccb-standards/ (accessed October 19, 2022); Ecosystem Marketplace, “State of the Forest Carbon Markets 2013,” https://forest-trends.org//wp-content/uploads/2018/04/SOFCM-full-report.pdf p. 50 (accessed October 19, 2022).

[114] Verra letter to Human Rights Watch, June 20, 2023, p. 4.

[115] Ibid.

[116] Ibid.

[117] Ibid.

[118] Ibid.; see also the VCS, CCB, and SD VISta program fee schedules: Verra, “VCS Program Fee Schedule,” January 17, 2023, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/Program-Fee-Schedule-v4.2-OFFICIAL-Q4-2022-FINAL.pdf (accessed December 22, 2023); Verra, “CCB Program Fee Schedule,” April 13, 2023, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/CCB-Standards-Fee-Schedule-v3.5-final.pdf (accessed December 22, 2023); Verra, “SD VISta Program Fee Schedule,” April 9, 2020, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/SD-VISta-Program-Fee-Schedule-v1.1.pdf (accessed December 22, 2023).

[119] Verra, “Validation and Verification,” https://verra.org/validation-verification/ (accessed December 22, 2023).

[120] Ibid. The source also lists the auditing firms – “validation/verification bodies (VVBs) – that are currently authorized by Verra.

[121] Ibid.

[122] See for example, Verra, “CCB Program Rules, Version 3.1,” June 21, 2017, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/CCB-Program-Rules-v3.1.pdf (accessed October 2, 2022), Rule 2.5. 4, p. 9. The rule says: “One of the VCS’ roles is to oversee and ensure the integrity of the application of the CCB Program with respect to each project. The VCS conducts reviews of projects and CCB label issuance requests. The VCS is also responsible for overseeing the validation/verification bodies operating under the CCB Program. Where the VCS identifies shortcomings in a validation/verification body’s performance, it may provide feedback and require the validation/verification body to address non-conformities. The VCS reserves the right to exclude auditor organizations from the validation/verification bodies list at its discretion. It reserves the right not to approve the validation or verification of projects or approve the issuance of CCB-labeled GHG credits where it deems that projects are not in compliance with the CCB rules or may otherwise impact the integrity of the CCB Program, and to suspend projects where it deems that they have not been in compliance with the CCB rules.”  Interview with Verra then Chief Executive Officer David Antonioli on the podcast Smarter Markets: Demystifying the Carbon Markets Episode 7, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/smartermarkets/id1541404399?i=1000554543493 (accessed December 14, 2022).

[123] Verra Complaints and Appeals Policy, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/Verra-Complaints-and-Appeals-Policy-v1.0.pdf (accessed December 14, 2022), p. 1.

[124] Ibid.

[125] Ibid., p. 2.

[126] Ibid., p. 1.

[127] Verra letter to Human Rights Watch, June 20, 2023, p. 2.

[128] Verra, “Verra Releases New Grievance Redress Policy,” December 13, 2023, https://verra.org/program-notice/verra-releases-new-grievance-redress-policy/ (accessed December 22, 2023). 

[129] Verra letter to Human Rights Watch, June 20, 2023, p.3. 

[130] Ibid.

[131] Human Rights Watch letter to Verra, May 30, 2023.

[132] Verra letter to Human Rights Watch, June 20, 2023, p.1.

[133] Ibid.

[134] E-mail from Hannah Robinson, Manager of Sustainable Development Programs at Verra, August 29, 2023.

[135] Verra e-mail to Human Rights Watch, September 19, 2023.

[136] WA described how they approached the woman in the company of government officials and had her sign a statement in a letter to Human Rights Watch; WA letter to Human Rights Watch, August 8, 2023, pp. 3-4, Annex 16a, Annex 16b.

[137] See the case of “Chea” in the section “Criminalization of Swidden Farming” of this report.

[138] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, August 8, 2023, Annex 16b.

[139] Ibid., Annex 16a.

[140] Human Rights Watch letter to Verra, August 18, 2023.

[141] E-mail from Hannah Robinson, Manager of Sustainable Development Programs at Verra, September 25, 2023.

[142] E-mail from Hannah Robinson, Manager of Sustainable Development Programs at Verra, October 12, 2023.

[143] Verra, Human Rights Policy, August 2023, p. 4 https://verra.org/about/overview/#important-policies- (accessed October 24, 2023).

[144] UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted September 13, 2007, G.A. Res.

61/295, U.N. Doc. A/RES/47/1, Article 19. Further, the right to free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) of Indigenous peoples stems from their right to self-determination, which itself is also “crucial to the issue of land conservation efforts because of its links with land rights and the right to participate within processes and decisions affecting them, such as the establishment and management of protected areas,” according to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous peoples analysis of applicable treaty law. The Special Rapporteur’s report further analyzes the sources of law: “The right to self-determination is enshrined within both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966, article 1) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966, article 1) and is included in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007, article 3). Human rights treaty bodies, notably the Human Rights Committee, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, have all affirmed, in analogous terms, that States must recognize and protect the rights of indigenous peoples to own, develop, control and use their communal lands and to participate in the management and conservation of the associated natural resources. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Human Rights Committee have underlined the importance of the provision of land titles on the ancestral lands by linking the right to self-determination with cultural rights (article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights). The Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No. 169) of the International Labour Organization (ILO) enshrines land rights for indigenous peoples in articles 14 to 19. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which consolidates the rights of indigenous peoples already recognized in other human rights instruments and through the jurisprudence of the international human rights treaty bodies, affirms the right of indigenous peoples to own and control their lands (articles 25, 26 and 27).” Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to the United Nations General Assembly, July 29, 2016, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N16/241/09/PDF/N1624109.pdf?OpenElement (accessed August 1, 2023), pp. 9-10.

[145] Verra, “Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards (Third Edition),” December 2013, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/CCB_Standards_Third_Edition_December_2013.pdf (accessed August 12, 2022), pp. 24-25.

[146] SCS Global Services, “Validation Report for the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project,” November 30, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/app/projectDetail/VCS/1748 (accessed August 18, 2022), p. 74.

[147] Ibid.

[148] SCS Global Services, “Validation Report for the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project,” November 30, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=43043&IDKEY=kiofj09234rm9oq4jndsma80vcalksdjf98cxkjaf90823nmq3a59356297 (accessed August 18, 2022), p. 73.

[149] In the report, “project personnel” is noted as being eight representatives of Wildlife Alliance, three representatives of Wildlife Works Carbon, and one representative of the Ministry of Environment. The auditor’s report does not specify which of these 12 individuals listed as project personnel provided this specific answer. SCS Global Services, “Validation Report for the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project,” November 30, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=43043&IDKEY=kiofj09234rm9oq4jndsma80vcalksdjf98cxkjaf90823nmq3a59356297 (accessed August 18, 2022), p. 9.

[150] SCS Global Services, “Validation Report for the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project,” November 30, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=43043&IDKEY=kiofj09234rm9oq4jndsma80vcalksdjf98cxkjaf90823nmq3a59356297 (accessed August 18, 2022), p. 74. In the same report, “project personnel” is noted as being eight representatives of Wildlife Alliance, three representatives of Wildlife Works Carbon, and one representative of the Ministry of Environment, see p. 9 The auditor’s report does not specify which of these 12 individuals listed as project personnel provided this specific answer.

[151] SCS Global Services, “Validation Report for the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project,” November 30, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=43043&IDKEY=kiofj09234rm9oq4jndsma80vcalksdjf98cxkjaf90823nmq3a59356297 (accessed August 18, 2022), p. 74.

[152] SCS Global Services, “Validation Report for the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project,” November 30, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=43043&IDKEY=kiofj09234rm9oq4jndsma80vcalksdjf98cxkjaf90823nmq3a59356297 (accessed August 18, 2022), p. 74.

[153]  Ibid.

[154] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, December 21, 2022, p. 1.

[155] Wildlife Works Carbon, “Southern Cardamoms REDD+ Project” (project description submitted to Verra for validation under the VCS and CCB standard), March 8, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=45881&IDKEY=098klasmf8jflkasf8098afnasfkj98f0a9sfsakjflsakjf8d863269899 (accessed September 29, 2023), p. 16.

[156] SCS Global Services, “Validation Report for the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project,” November 30, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=43043&IDKEY=kiofj09234rm9oq4jndsma80vcalksdjf98cxkjaf90823nmq3a59356297 (accessed August 18, 2022), p. 74.

[157] UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted September 13, 2007, G.A. Res.

61/295, U.N. Doc. A/RES/47/1, article 32 (emphasis added).

[158]  Verra, “Third Edition Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards,” December 2013, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/CCB_Standards_Third_Edition_December_2013.pdf (accessed August 12, 2022), p. 25 (emphasis added).

[159] Patrick Anderson, “Free, Prior, and Informed Consent in REDD+: Principles and Approaches for Policy and Project Development,” RECOFT, GIZ, February 1, 2011, https://www.recoftc.org/publications/0000210 (accessed October 27, 2022), p. 19. Verra recommends this manual as guidance for FPIC in footnote 60 of the CCB standard, Verra, “Third Edition Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards,” December 2013, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/CCB_Standards_Third_Edition_December_2013.pdf (accessed August 12, 2022), p. 25.

[160] Wildlife Works Carbon, “Southern Cardamoms REDD+ Project” (project description submitted to Verra for validation under the VCS and CCB standard), March 8, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=45881&IDKEY=098klasmf8jflkasf8098afnasfkj98f0a9sfsakjflsakjf8d863269899 (accessed August 11, 2022), p. 2.

[161] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, December 21, 2022, p. 3; WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, p. 10; WA letter to Human Rights Watch, August 8, 2023, p. 6; Wildlife Works Carbon, “Southern Cardamoms REDD+ Project” (project description submitted to Verra for validation under the VCS and CCB standard), March 8, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=45881&IDKEY=098klasmf8jflkasf8098afnasfkj98f0a9sfsakjflsakjf8d863269899 (accessed August 11, 2022), pp. 47-51.

[162] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, December 21, 2022, pp. 2-3.  

[163] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, pp. 9-11.

[164] Ibid., Annex 3.

[165] Ibid., Annex 3.

[166] Ibid., Annex 3.

[167] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, August 8, 2023, p. 6.

[168]  Ibid.

[169] SCS Global Services, “Verification Report for the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project,” Issued November 30, 2018, Revised February 25, 2019, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=43021&IDKEY=00e98hfalksuf098fnsdalfkjfoijmn4309JLKJFjlaksjfla9a59325959 (accessed December 22, 2023), p. 46.

[170] WA stated that activities to delineate lands used by the communities and their farmlands begun in 2012 and continued throughout 2016. WA letter to Human Rights Watch, December 21, 2022, p. 7. WA also stated that between June 2015 and May 2016, they took steps to delineate the community lands the six villages in Chumnoab and Pralay communes, in the Chhay Areng valley, and that these boundaries were “integrated by the Provincial State Land Management Committee into the zonation of the Southern Cardamom National Park,” see WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, Annex 1B. WA also shared minutes of a meeting held between WA staff and government officials in October 2015 to finalize the boundaries of residential land and farmland plots in Thmor Donpove commune, WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, Annex 8 – Thmor Dounpov Commune. WA stated that when the Cambodian Prime Minister announced the creation of the Southern Cardamom National Park it was a “critical moment for the development of a REDD+ project,” WA letter to Human Rights Watch, August 8, 2023, p. 6.

[171] Morgan Erickson-Davis, “Cambodia declares new national park, plans to reintroduce tigers,” June 1, 2016, Mongabay, https://news.mongabay.com/2016/06/cambodia-declares-new-national-park-plans-to-reintroduce-tigers/ (accessed September 28, 2023).

[172] Wildlife Alliance letter to Human Rights Watch, August 8, 2023, p. 6.

[173] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, August 8, 2023, pp. 6-7.

[174] UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted September 13, 2007, G.A. Res.

61/295, U.N. Doc. A/RES/47/1, article 32 (emphasis added); Verra, “Third Edition Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards,” December 2013, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/CCB_Standards_Third_Edition_December_2013.pdf (accessed August 12, 2022), p. 25.

[175] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, November 30, 2023, pp. 4-6.

[176] Wildlife Works Carbon, “Southern Cardamoms REDD+ Project,” (project description submitted to Verra for validation under the VCS and CCB standard), March 8, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=45881&IDKEY=098klasmf8jflkasf8098afnasfkj98f0a9sfsakjflsakjf8d863269899 (accessed August 11, 2022), pp. 47-51, The project description submitted to Verra stated that “The Initial Round One Community FPIC meetings took place from August to October 2017. 24 meetings were held within the round. During that period, a half day meeting was held in each targeted village. Significant time was given between the initial consultation and the second round of consultations. From December 19, 2017 to March 2, 2018, an additional 27 meetings in Round Two were held in 27 of the 29 targeted villages. At this Second Round, one full day was allotted to each targeted village with a half day meeting and a half day posting and disseminating awareness materials. WA letter to Human Rights Watch, December 21, 2022, p. 3; WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, p. 10; WA letter to Human Rights Watch, August 8, 2023, p. 6.

[177] SCS Global Services, “Validation Report for the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project,” November 30, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=43043&IDKEY=kiofj09234rm9oq4jndsma80vcalksdjf98cxkjaf90823nmq3a59356297 (accessed August 18, 2022), p. 2. CCB standard, p. 16, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/CCB-Standards-v3.1_ENG.pdf (accessed January 28, 2022). CCB standard definitions, p. 7, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/CCB_Program_Definitions_v3.0.pdf (accessed January 28, 2022).

[178] SCS Global Services letter to Human Rights Watch, May 5, 2023, p. 4.

[179] Verra letter to Human Rights Watch, June 20, 2023, p. 4.

[180] Ibid., p. 1.

[181] Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, “Free, prior and informed consent: a human rights-based approach,” August 10, 2018, https://www.ohchr.org/en/documents/thematic-reports/free-prior-and-informed-consent-human-rights-based-approach-study-expert (accessed December 12, 2022) p. 7.

[182] Verra, “Third Edition Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards,” December 2013, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/CCB_Standards_Third_Edition_December_2013.pdf (accessed August 12, 2022), p. 19.

[183] Ibid., p. 25.

[184] Wildlife Works Carbon, “Southern Cardamoms REDD+ Project” (project description submitted to Verra for validation under the VCS and CCB standard), March 8, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=45881&IDKEY=098klasmf8jflkasf8098afnasfkj98f0a9sfsakjflsakjf8d863269899 (accessed August 11, 2022), p. 47.

[185] WA, “Annex 5: Project Area boundary consultation process,” June 28, 2023, p. 1.

[186] Ibid.

[187] Human Rights Watch interview with government official G1 in Chhay Areng valley, Koh Kong province on April 29, 2022.

[188] Human Rights Watch interview with government official (G2) in Chhay Areng valley, Thmor Bang district, Koh Kong province, April 30, 2022. The exact title of the official and the administrative unit they represent has been withheld for security reasons.

[189] Human Rights Watch interview with resident (R1) of Pralay commune, Thmor Bang district, Koh Kong province, April 27, 2022.

[190] Human Rights Watch interview with resident (R2) of Thmor Donpov commune, Thmor Bang district, Koh Kong province, April 28, 2022.

[191] Human Rights Watch interview with resident (R3) of Pralay commune, Thmor Bang district, Koh Kong province, April 29, 2022.

[192] Aster Global Environmental Solutions, Inc., “Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project Validation Report”, August 25, 2021, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=55124&IDKEY=kkjalskjf098234kj28098sfkjlf098098kl32lasjdflkj909076015996 (accessed September 28, 2023), p. 37.

[193] Ibid., p. 38.

[194] Ibid.

[195] Ibid., p. 47.

[196] Ibid.

[197] Ibid., p. 48.

[198] Ibid.

[199] Aster Global letter to Human Rights Watch, May 5, 2023.

[200]  SCS Global Services, “Validation Report for the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project,” November 30, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=43043&IDKEY=kiofj09234rm9oq4jndsma80vcalksdjf98cxkjaf90823nmq3a59356297 (accessed August 18, 2022), p. 75.

[201] Aster Global Environmental Solutions, Inc., “Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project Validation Report,” August 25, 2021, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=55124&IDKEY=kkjalskjf098234kj28098sfkjlf098098kl32lasjdflkj909076015996 (accessed September 28, 2023), p. 49.

[202]  Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, “Free, prior and informed consent: a human rights-based approach,” August 10, 2018, https://www.ohchr.org/en/documents/thematic-reports/free-prior-and-informed-consent-human-rights-based-approach-study-expert (accessed December 12, 2022), p. 9 and p. 12.

[203] WA, “Annex 6: 2023 FPIC Meetings in 29 Communities,” p. 1 (copy on file with Human Rights Watch).

[204] Human Rights Watch e-mail to Suwanna Gauntlett, WA CEO, August 29, 2023.

[205] Aster Global Environmental Solutions, Inc., “Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project Validation Report”, August 25, 2021, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=55124&IDKEY=kkjalskjf098234kj28098sfkjlf098098kl32lasjdflkj909076015996 (accessed September 28, 2023), p. 48.

[206] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, Annex 2.

[207] WA, “Annex 2: FPIC and Land Rights Summary,” June 28, 2023 (copy on file with Human Rights Watch). WA supplied the raw data regarding the absolute number of participants and the absolute number of participants who voiced support for the project. The population data is from the SCRP Project Description, Wildlife Works Carbon, “Southern Cardamoms REDD+ Project,” March 8, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/app/projectDetail/VCS/1748 (accessed August 11, 2022), pp. 21-22.

[208] Ibid.

[209] Human Rights Watch interview with resident (R4) of Chumnoab commune, Thmor Bang district, Koh Kong province, April 27, 2022.

[210] Human Rights Watch interview with resident (R5) of Thmor Donpove commune, Thmor Bang district, Koh Kong province, April 28, 2022.

[211] Human Rights Watch interview with resident (R6) of Osom commune, Veal Veng district, Pursat province, April 24, 2022.

[212] CESCR, General Comment No. 7, Forced Evictions and the Right to Adequate Housing, U.N. Doc E/1998/22 (1997), para 3.

[213] See section below of this report on Right to Adequate Housing.

[214] UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, principle 13.

[215] UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN-Habitat, “Fact Sheet No. 25/Rev 1,” 2014, https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/Documents/Publications/FS25.Rev.1.pdf (accessed October 30, 2022), p. 3.

[216] The section below on applicable standards elaborates on the obligations of the Cambodian government under international human rights law, see section about the right to housing.

[217] UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN-Habitat, “Fact Sheet No. 25/Rev 1,” 2014, https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/Documents/Publications/FS25.Rev.1.pdf (accessed October 30, 2022), p. 5.

[218] Ibid.

[219] This fact is acknowledged by project developers, see Wildlife Works Carbon, “Southern Cardamoms REDD+ Project,” (project description submitted to Verra for validation under the VCS and CCB standard), March 8, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=45881&IDKEY=098klasmf8jflkasf8098afnasfkj98f0a9sfsakjflsakjf8d863269899 (accessed August 11, 2022), p. 16. The RCG also acknowledged at least 1,064 Chong people living in Koh Kong province. See Cambodia’s 2018 submission to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CERD%2fC%2fKHM%2f14-17&Lang=en (accessed September 14, 2022), p. 3.

[220] Human Rights Watch interview with resident (R7) of Thmor Donpov commune, Thmor Bang district, Koh Kong province on April 28, 2022.

[221] Human Rights Watch interview with resident (R3) of Pralay commune, Thmor Bang district, Koh Kong province on April 29, 2022.

[222] Human Rights Watch interview with resident (R8) of Thmor Donpov commune, Thmor Bang district, Koh Kong province on April 29, 2022.

[223] Human Rights Watch interview with resident (R9) of Chumnoab commune, Thma Bang district, Koh Kong province on April 27, 2022.

[224] See detailed analysis and methodology in Annex 2.

[225] Ibid.

[226] The government established the outer boundary of the park, classifying all the land inside it as a protected area governed by the 2008 Protected Areas Law. In accordance with the 2008 Protected Areas Law, a second zoning process should be conducted to establish the park’s inner boundaries, defining ‘community zones’, ‘sustainable development zones’, ‘conservation zones’ and ‘core zones’ – that process of defining inner boundaries was still ongoing at the time of publication. Sub-decree no. 89 on establishment of the Southern Cardamom Mountains National Park (2016), available at https://data.opendevelopmentcambodia.net/laws_record/subdecree_no89_on_establishment_of_southern_cardamom_mountains_national_park (accessed December 4, 2023). WA letter to Human Rights Watch, August 8, 2023, p. 6. Morgan Erickson-Davis, “Cambodia declares new national park, plans to reintroduce tigers,” June 1, 2016, Mongabay, https://news.mongabay.com/2016/06/cambodia-declares-new-national-park-plans-to-reintroduce-tigers/ (accessed September 28, 2023). Rhett A. Buttler, “Could REDD help save an embattled forest in Cambodia?”, Mongabay, October 28, 2016, https://news.mongabay.com/2016/10/could-redd-help-save-an-embattled-forest-in-cambodia/ (accessed August 30, 2023).

[227] Human Rights Watch interview with resident (R3) of Pralay commune, Thmor Bang district, Koh Kong province on April 29, 2022; Human Rights Watch interview with resident (R2) of Thmor Donpov commune, Thmor Bang district, Koh Kong province on April 28, 2022.

[228] Sub-decree no. 30 on the land reclassification of 129 928.39 hectares in 8 natural protected areas in Koh Kong province as the state private property in order to grant ownership to citizens and to Koh Kong provincial administration to occupy as private state property, available at: https://data.opendevelopmentcambodia.net/laws_record/sub-decree-no-30-on-the-land-reclassification-of-126-928-39-hectares-in-8-natural-protected-areas-i (accessed December 4, 2023). WA also wrote to Human Rights Watch that sub-decree no. 30 states that the Koh Kong provincial government will manage excised lands in order to “allocate land for communities via land titling; allocate land for community infrastructure development; and manage the remaining forest land as private state property.” WA letter to Human Rights Watch, November 30, 2023, p. 10. While the order was “ostensibly meant to redistribute land to communities that had previously lost control of it after it was taken over by the Ministry of Environment and conservation NGOs to manage as protected areas,” experts also noted that some of areas excised could be subject to land grabbing; see Gerald Flynn, Andrew Ball, Phoung Vantha, “Carving up the Cardamoms: Conservationists fear massive land grab in Cambodia,” Mongabay, July 1, 2021, https://news.mongabay.com/2021/07/carving-up-the-cardamoms-conservationists-fear-massive-land-grab-in-cambodia/ (accessed December 4, 2023).

[229] Ibid.

[230] Ibid.

[231] Human Rights Watch interview with government official (G1) in Chhay Areng valley, April 29, 2022.

[232] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, December 21, 2022, pp. 7-8.

[233] Human Rights Watch letter to WA, February 1, 2023, question 12.

[234] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, December 21, 2022, p.4.

[235] Ibid.

[236] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, Annex 1B.

[237] Ibid., Annex 1B, pp. 17-18.

[238] Human Rights Watch letter to WA, November 6, 2023, p. 8.

[239] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, November 30, 2023, p. 8.

[240] Ibid., p. 9.

[241] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, November 30, 2023, p. 8; pp. 10-11.

[242] Ibid., p. 11.

[243] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, Annex 1B, p. 1.

[244] Ibid., Annex 1B, p. 8.

[245] Swidden agriculture has been the subject of acrimonious debate, with conflicting views regarding its correlation with biodiversity loss and deforestation, see for example: Li, P.; Feng, Z.; Jiang, L.; Liao, C.; Zhang, J. A Review of Swidden Agriculture in Southeast Asia. Remote Sens. 2014, 6, 1654-1683. https://doi.org/10.3390/rs6021654. It is now understood clearly that industrial agriculture is the leading driver of destruction in tropical forests, see for example: Cassie Dummett and Arthur Blundell, “Illicit Harvest, Complicit Goods: The state of illegal deforestation for agriculture,” Forest Trends, May 2021, https://www.forest-trends.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Illicit-Harvest-Complicit-Goods.pdf (accessed December 22, 2023). Swidden agriculture instead is traditionally practiced by many Indigenous societies across the world, and more recent studies indicate it can be positively correlated with increased biodiversity in tropical rainforests, such as the Cardamom mountains, see for example Downey, S.S., Walker, M., Moschler, J. et al. An intermediate level of disturbance with customary agricultural practices increases species diversity in Maya community forests in Belize. Commun Earth Environ 4, 428 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43247-023-01089-6.

[246] Human Rights Watch letter to WA, November 6, 2023. Human Rights Watch asked the following questions: “Regarding the map of Chumnoab and Pralay communes elaborated by WA as described in Annex 1B of your letter dated June 23, 2023, could you describe your process to assess which farmland that was “abandoned”? Specifically, did WA hold discussions with the farmers who had cultivated land WA determined to be “abandoned”?”

[247] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, November 30, 2023, p. 11.

[248] Ibid., p. 12.

[249] Human Rights Watch interviews with three individuals who were members of the Chong Community Committees in 2016, November 23, 2023.

[250] Human Rights Watch interview with “Pov” (R10) resident of Chumnoab commune, Thmor Bang district, Koh Kong province, April 27, 2022.

[251] Huma Rights Watch interview with “Sothy” (R11) resident of Chumnoab commune, Thmor Bang district, Koh Kong province, November 23, 2023.

[252] Human Rights Watch interview with “Chea” (R12) and her husband (R13), residents of Pralay commune, Thmor Bang district, Koh Kong province on April 29, 2022. Human Rights Watch interview with resident (R14) of Pralay commune, Thmor Bang district, Koh Kong province on April 29, 2022.

[253] Human Rights Watch interview with “Chea” (R12) and her husband (R13) in Pralay commune, Thmor Bang district, Koh Kong province on April 29, 2022.

[254] Human Rights Watch interview with “Chea” (R12) and her husband (R13) in Pralay commune, Thmor Bang district, Koh Kong province on April 29, 2022.

[255] Ibid.

[256] Ibid.

[257] Ibid.

[258] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, August 8, 2023, Annex 16B.

[259] Ibid., Annex 16B, p. 6.

[260] Ibid., Annex 16, p. 1.

[261] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, August 8, 2023, pp. 3-4, and Annex 16b to that letter, p. 2. In the letter, WA claims that Human Rights Watch “alleges that Cardamoms Forest Protection Program rangers beat a pregnant woman in Chumnaob (sic) Commune,” though Human Rights Watch had not made that claim neither to WA nor to Verra, given Chea did not allege during the interview that she had been beaten, as reflected in her testimony reproduced in this report.

[262] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, August 8, 2023, Annex 16A.

[263] Ibid.

[264] Human Rights Watch interview with resident (R15) of Osom commune, Veal Veng district, Pursat province, April 24, 2022.

[265] Wildlife Works Carbon, “Southern Cardamoms REDD+ Project,” (project description submitted to Verra for validation under the VCS and CCB standard), March 8, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=45881&IDKEY=098klasmf8jflkasf8098afnasfkj98f0a9sfsakjflsakjf8d863269899 (accessed August 11, 2022), pp. 21-22.

[266] As no official survey of farmland in Voa Pen has been conducted, the Human Rights Watch team visited several locations, interviewed farmers, and took georeferenced photographs to estimate the general area.

[267] Human Rights Watch interview with government official (G3) of O’Som commune, Veal Veng district, Pursat province, April 26, 2022.

[268] Human Rights Watch interview with resident (R17) of O’Som commune, Veal Veng district, Pursat province, April 24, 2022.

[269] Human Rights Watch interview with “Boran” (R16) and “Sok” (R15), residents of Osom commune, Veal Veng district, Pursat province, April 24, 2022.

[270] Ibid.

[271] Ibid.

[272] Ibid.

[273] Ibid.

[274] Copies on file with Human Rights Watch. The court documents were reviewed by criminal defense lawyers from LICADHO.

[275] Human Rights Watch interview with “Boran” (R16) and “Sok” (R15), residents of Osom commune, Veal Veng district, Pursat province, April 24, 2022. Judicial documents on file with Human Rights Watch.

[276] Ibid.

[277]Copies on file with Human Rights Watch. The court documents were also reviewed by criminal defense lawyers from LICADHO.

[278] Human Rights Watch interview with “Boran” (R16) and “Sok” (R15), residents of Osom commune, Veal Veng district, Pursat province, April 24, 2022. Judicial documents on file with Human Rights Watch.

[279] Human Rights Watch interview with “Heng” (R18) and “Ponlok” (R19), residents of O’Som commune, Veal Veng district, Pursat province, April 25, 2022.

[280] Ibid.

[281] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, p. 14.

[282] Human Rights Watch reviewed court documents that said “Heng” was charged with “digging and moving the soil, encroaching and clearing forest land, set forest fire and bulldozing forestland to claim ownership.” Copy on file with Human Rights Watch.

[283] Human Rights Watch interview with “Heng” (R18) and “Ponlok” (R19), residents of O’Som commune, Veal Veng district, Pursat province, April 25, 2022.

[284] Ibid.

[285] Ibid.

[286] Human Rights Watch interview with resident (R20) of O’Som commune, Veal Veng district, Pursat province, April 24, 2022.

[287] Ibid.

[288] Human Rights Watch interview with resident (R21) of O’Som commune, Veal Veng district, Pursat province, April 24, 2022.

[289] Ibid.

[290] Human Rights Watch interview with government official (G3) of O’Som commune, Veal Veng district, Pursat province, April 26, 202.

[291] Human Rights Watch interview with “Chamson” (R22) of O’som commune, Veal Veng district, Pursat province, April 25, 2022.

[292] “Resin tapping involves the sustainable collection of oleoresins from various species of dipterocarp trees growing wild in the forest. In the process of resin tapping, a tap (or hole) is cut near the base of resin trees and burnt briefly each week to stimulate fresh resin flow, which can be harvested. Research has shown that tapping of a single tree can continue for decades. The resin is sold and used domestically for low-grade lighting and commercially for boat caulks, paints, varnishes and probably also as an ingredient in perfumes,” cited from Amnesty International, “Our Traditions Are Being Destroyed,” January 2022, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa23/5183/2022/en/ p. 17 (accessed September 1, 2022).

[293] Human Rights Watch interview with “Chamson” (R22) in O’Som commune, Veal Veng district, Pursat province, April 25, 2022.

[294] Ibid.

[295] Ibid.

[296] Ibid.

[297] Ibid.

[298] Human Rights Watch interview with “Ke” (R23) resident of O’Som commune, Veal Veng district, Pursat province, April 25, 2022. He was interviewed separately from Chamson.

[299] Ibid.

[300] Human Rights Watch interview with government official (G1) in Chhay Areng valley, April 29, 2022.

[301] Human Rights Watch interview with resident (R2) of Thmor Donpov commune, Thmor Bang district, Koh Kong province, April 28, 2022.

[302] Wildlife Works Carbon, “Southern Cardamoms REDD+ Project,” (project description submitted to Verra for validation under the VCS and CCB standard), March 8, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=45881&IDKEY=098klasmf8jflkasf8098afnasfkj98f0a9sfsakjflsakjf8d863269899 (accessed August 11, 2022), p. 21.

[303] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, August 8, 2023, p. 9.

[304] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, November 30, 2023, p. 7.

[305] Ibid., p. 8.

[306]  Wildlife Works Carbon, “Southern Cardamoms REDD+ Project,” (project description submitted to Verra for validation under the VCS and CCB standard), March 8, 2018, https://registry.verra.org/mymodule/ProjectDoc/Project_ViewFile.asp?FileID=45881&IDKEY=098klasmf8jflkasf8098afnasfkj98f0a9sfsakjflsakjf8d863269899 (accessed August 11, 2022), p. 66.

[307] Royal Government of Cambodia, 2008 Protected Areas Law, chapter iv. An English translation of the law is available on the FAOLEX database: https://faolex.fao.org/docs/pdf/cam81966.pdf (accessed December 22, 2023).

[308] WA letter to Human Rights Watch, June 23, 2023, Annex 1, p. 14.

[309] Ibid., Annex 1, p 16.

[310] Royal Government of Cambodia, 2008 Protected Areas Law, chapter iv, Article 14. An English translation of the law is available on the FAOLEX database: https://faolex.fao.org/docs/pdf/cam81966.pdf (accessed December 22, 2023).

[311] See Jeremy Ironside, “Thinking Outside the Fence: Exploring Culture/Land Relationships: A Case Study of Ratanakiri Province, Cambodia” (Ph.D. diss., University of Otago, Dunedin, 2012).  Diepart and Sem (2018).

[312]Josephine Gillespie, “A Legal Geography of Property, Tenure, Exclusion, And Rights in Cambodia: Exposing an Incongruous Property Narrative for Non-Western Settings,” Geographical Research 54 (2016): 256-266, accessed August 1, 2022, https://doi.org/10.1111/1745-5871.12094.

[313] Kheang Un and Sokbunthoeun So, “Land rights in Cambodia: How Neopatrimonial Politics Restricts Land Policy Reform,” Pacific Affairs 84 (2011): 289-308, doi: 10.5509/2011842289 (accessed August 1, 2022); Sarah Milne and Sango Mahanty (ed.), Conservation and Development in Cambodia: Exploring Frontiers of Change in Nature, State and Society (New York: Routledge, 2015); Andreas Neef and Siphat Touch, “Land Grabbing in Cambodia: Narratives, Mechanisms, Resistance,” Paper presented at the Global Land Grabbing II, October 17-19, 2012, Cornell University, Ithaca, http://www.ticambodia.org/library/wp-content/files_mf/1436434091landgrabbinginCambodia.pdf (accessed August 1, 2022).

[314]UN Development Program, “A Case Study of Indigenous Traditional Legal Systems And Conflict Resolution in Rattanakiri and Mondulkiri Provinces, Cambodia,” https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/lib-docs/HRBodies/UPR/Documents/Session6/KH/UNCT_KHM_UPRS06_2009_document5.pdf (accessed July 18, 2022).

and Mark Grimsditch et al., “Access to Land Title in Cambodia: A Study of Systematic Land Registration in Three Cambodian Provinces and the Capital,” The NGO Forum on Cambodia, November 2012, https://data.opendevelopmentcambodia.net/en/library_record/access-to-land-title-in-cambodia-a-study-of-systematic-land-registration-in-three-cambodian-provinc (accessed August 1, 2022).

[315] CECSR, General comment No. 7:  The right to adequate housing (art. 11 (1) of the Covenant): Forced evictions.

[316]  “Role and achievements of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in assisting the Government and people of Cambodia in the promotion and protection of human rights – Report of the Secretary General”, September 22, 2015, A/HRC/30/30, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G15/215/47/PDF/G1521547.pdf?OpenElement (accessed November 24, 2022). UN-appointed experts have denounced land tenure insecurity and forced evictions as a pervasive problem as early as the 1970’s.

[317] LICADHO, “Land is Life: Celebrating World Habitat Day 2021,” October 17, 2021, https://www.licadho-cambodia.org/video.php?perm=100 (accessed September 16, 2022).

[318] Cambodia Land Law, art. 7 (http://extwprlegs1.fao.org/docs/pdf/cam27478.pdf).

[319] Cambodia Land Law, Title II - Acquisition of Ownership, Chapter 4 - Reconstitution of ownership over immovable property ownership by extraordinary acquisitive possession.

[320] Danielle Keeton-Olsen, “Cambodia Puts Its Arduous Titling Process For Indigenous Land Up For Review,” Land Portal, April 15, 2021, https://landportal.org/news/2021/04/cambodia-puts-its-arduous-titling-process-indigenous-land-review (accessed August 1, 2022).

[321] The UN Forests and Agriculture Organization (FAO) provides an English translation of the 2003 law. See Forest Administration, “Law on Forestry,” 2003, http://extwprlegs1.fao.org/docs/pdf/cam50411.pdf (accessed August 18, 2022).

[322] Law on Forestry, article 24.

[323] Royal Government of Cambodia, 2008 Protected Areas Law, Phnom Penh. Available at: https://www.unredd.net/documents/un-redd-partner-countries-181/asia-the-pacific-333/a-p-partner-countries/cambodia-318/national-un-redd-programme-management-including-tors-2825/other-official-documents-letter-law-decree-etc-1536/11265-protected-area-law-2008-11265.html?path=un-redd-partner-countries-181/asia-the-pacific-333/a-p-partner-countries/cambodia-318/national-un-redd-programme-management-including-tors-2825/other-official-documents-letter-law-decree-etc-1536 (accessed August 19, 2022)

[324] Royal Government of Cambodia, 2008 Protected Areas Law, art. 4.

[325] Ibid., art. 22.

[326] Royal Government of Cambodia, 2008 Protected Areas Law, chapter iv.

[327] Ibid., art. 36.

[328] Sub-Decree 83 “Procedures of Registration of Land of Indigenous Communities,” 2009, Article 2. The official text in Khmer is available for download on the website of Open Development Cambodia: https://data.opendevelopmentmekong.net/en/laws_record/sub-decree-no-83-on-procedure-of-indigenous-communal-land-registration (accessed July 28, 2023). An unofficial FAO translation to English is available here: https://www.fao.org/faolex/results/details/en/c/LEX-FAOC184378/ (accessed July 28, 2023). 

[329] Ibid., Article 6.

[330] Ibid., Article 7.

[331] The REDD+ framework is also recognized in the Paris Agreement on climate change, adopted in 2016 during the COP21, in which states parties encourage REDD+ activities, which remain voluntary. UNFCCC, “What is REDD+?” https://unfccc.int/topics/land-use/workstreams/redd/what-is-redd (accessed July 19, 2022). The idea of REDD+ long predates the adoption of the framework, but this prior history is not addressed here for the purpose of brevity. See, for example, Center for International Forestry Research, “REDD+: Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation,” https://www2.cifor.org/gcs/modules/knowledge-sharing/redd-reducing-emissions-deforestation-forest-degradation/ (accessed July 19, 2022).

[332] REDD+ Cambodia, “The Kingdom of Cambodia Nation Religion King: First Summary of Information on Safeguards,” October 2019, https://redd.unfccc.int/files/6._cambodia_1st_summary_of_information_on_safeguards-final-oct-2019.pdf.

[333] Ibid., p. 10.

[334] Cambodia’s REDD+ Project Database, available at: https://cambodia-redd.org/policies-and-strategies/redd-project-database.html (accessed October 18, 2022); The International Database on REDD+ projects and programmes, a database curated by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and others, lists an additional two projects as inactive, see Cambodia country page available at: https://www.reddprojectsdatabase.org/view/projects.php?id=116&name=Cambodia&type=project (accessed October 18, 2022).

[335] Tith Kongnov, “Wildlife Sanctuary to Implement REDD+,” Khmer Times, July 27, 2022, https://www.khmertimeskh.com/501120075/wildlife-sanctuary-to-implement-redd/ (accessed October 18, 2022).

[336] Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia, article 31 (“The Kingdom of Cambodia shall recognize and respect human rights as stipulated in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the covenants and conventions related to human rights, women's and children's rights”).

[337] Constitutional Council of Cambodia, Decision No. 092/003/2007, July 10, 2007. See also OHCHR Cambodia, “The Declaration of Human Rights in the Cambodian Constitution,” July 2008, pp. 35-37.

[338] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), G.A. res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force Mar. 23, 1976.

[339] UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 34, Right of Access to Information, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/GC/34 (2011), paras. 18-19. The Human Rights Committee also noted that the right to information is addressed in other articles of the ICCPR, including arts. 2, 10, 14, and 17.

[340] UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 34, Right of Access to Information, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/GC/34 (2011), paras. 18-19.

[341] Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, adopted June 14, 1992, U.N. Doc. A/CONF.151/26 (vol. I), 31 I.L.M. 874 (1992), https://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/migration/generalassembly/docs/globalcompact/A_CONF.151_26_Vol.I_Declaration.pdf (accessed September 1, 2022).

[342] UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas, Article 5, https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/WGPleasants/A-HRC-WG-15-1-2_En.pdf (accessed February 5, 2024). The voting record for the Declaration at the General Assembly is available at: https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/1656160?ln=en (accessed October 30, 2022).

[343] Ibid, Article 10 (1).

[344] Ibid., Article 17 (5).

[345] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), G.A. res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 49, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 993 U.N.T.S. 3, entered into force Jan. 3, 1976, art. 11(1).

[346] UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), General Comment No. 4, The right to adequate housing, U.N. Doc. E/1992/23, annex III, art. 114 (1991), para. 8(a).

[347] UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), General Comment No. 4, The right to adequate housing, U.N. Doc. E/1992/23, annex III, art. 114 (1991), para. 8(e).

[348] The obligation of states to refrain from and protect against forced evictions from homes and land arises from several international legal instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (art. 11, para. 1), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (art. 17, 23 and 27), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (art. 27, para. 3), the non-discrimination provisions found in article 14, paragraph 2 (h), of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (art. 5(e)). UN treaty bodies have also provided ample guidance, particularly the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in General Comments No. 4 (1991) and No. 7 (1997).

[349] CESCR, General Comment No. 7, Forced Evictions and the Right to Adequate Housing, U.N. Doc E/1998/22 (1997), Annex IV.

[350] UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, “Forced evictions,” https://www.ohchr.org/en/special-procedures/sr-housing/forced-evictions (accessed October 30, 2022).

[351] UN OHCHR and UN-Habitat, “Fact Sheet No. 25, Rev. 1: Forced Evictions,” 2014, https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/Documents/Publications/FS25.Rev.1.pdf (accessed October 30, 2022), p. 33.

[352] CESCR, General Comment No. 7, Forced Evictions and the Right to Adequate Housing, U.N. Doc E/1998/22 (1997), para. 15.

[353] Ibid., para. 16.

[354] Human Rights Council, “Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, Miloon Kothari: Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-Based Evictions and Displacement,” A/HRC/4/18, February 5, 2007, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G07/106/28/PDF/G0710628.pdf?OpenElement (August 4, 2023).

[355] UN OHCHR and UN-Habitat, “Fact Sheet No. 25, Rev. 1: Forced Evictions,” 2014, https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/Documents/Publications/FS25.Rev.1.pdf (accessed October 30, 2022) p. 33.

[356] Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted December 10, 1948, G.A. Res. 217A(III), U.N. Doc. A/810 at 71

(1948)), art. 27; ICESCR, art. 15(1). For analysis, see Elissavet Stamatopoulou-Robbins, Cultural Rights in International Law: Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and beyond, Series: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights,

Volume: 2 (Boston: Martinus Nijhoff, 2007); Ana Vrdoljak, ed., The Cultural Dimension of Human Rights (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

[357] ICCPR, arts. 1 and 27. ICESCR, art. 1.

[358] Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 23, Rights of Minorities, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.5 (1994), para. 7, https://www.refworld.org/docid/453883fc0.html (accessed August 1, 2022).

[359] United Nations, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Chapter IV, Human Rights, March 7, 1966, https://treaties.un.org/pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=IND&mtdsg_no=IV-2&chapter=4&clang=_en (accessed February 9, 2024).

[360] Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, General recommendation XXIII on the rights of indigenous peoples, para. 5 Fifty-first session, 1997.

[361] UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted September 13, 2007, G.A. Res.

61/295, U.N. Doc. A/RES/47/1.

[362] “Frequently Asked Questions: Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” United Nations Permanent Forum on

Indigenous Issues, http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/FAQsIndigenousdeclaration.pdf (accessed July 13,

2019).

[363] Un Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, arts. 18, 19, and 32.

[364] Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, “Free, prior and informed consent: a human rights-based approach,” August 10, 2018, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G18/245/94/PDF/G1824594.pdf?OpenElement (accessed October 20, 2022) pp. 6-7.

[365] Ibid., p. 6.

[366] Ibid., p. 6.

[367] Ibid., p. 7.

[368] Ibid., p. 12.

[369] ICCPR, art. 14(1).

[370] Ibid., art. 14(2).

[371] Ibid., art. 14(6).

[372] Ibid., art. 9(1).

[373] Ibid., art. 9(5).

[374] Ibid., art 2(3).

[375] See generally, Human Rights Watch, “Cambodia’s Dirty Dozen,” June 27, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/06/27/cambodias-dirty-dozen/long-history-rights-abuses-hun-sens-generals.

[376] UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, “Policy Brief No. 1: Human rights-based approaches to conserving biodiversity: equitable, effective and imperative,” August 2021, https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/Documents/Issues/Environment/SREnvironment/policy-briefing-1.pdf (accessed October 30, 2022), p. 20.

[377] “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples: Protected areas and indigenous peoples’ rights: the obligations of States and international organizations,” https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/3984562 (accessed October 30, 2022), para. 66.

[378] UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, 2011, https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/documents/publications/guidingprinciplesbusinesshr_en.pdf (accessed February 6,2024); the Gender Dimensions of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/Documents/Issues/Business/BookletGenderDimensionsGuidingPrinciples.pdf (accessed February 6, 2024); the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, 2023, https://mneguidelines.oecd.org// (accessed February 6, 2024).

[379] UN Guiding Principles, principle 14.

[380] OECD Watch complaint database, “TuK Indonesia vs. Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO),”  https://www.oecdwatch.org/complaint/tuk-indonesia-vs-roundtable-on-sustainable-palm-oil-rspo/ (accessed October 26, 2022); UK National Contact Point, “Final statement: IDI, EC and LICADHO complaint to UK NCP about Bonsucro Ltd,” updated January 11, 2022, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/idi-ec-and-licadho-complaint-to-uk-ncp-about-bonsucro-ltd/final-statement-idi-ec-and-licadho-complaint-to-uk-ncp-about-bonsucro-ltd (accessed October 26, 2022).

[381] UN Guiding Principles, principle 11.

[382] Ibid., principle 13 and commentary.

[383] Ibid.

[384] Ibid., principle 15.

[385] Ibid., principle 29.

[386] Ibid., commentary on principle 29; principles 30 and 31.

[387] Ibid., principle 21.

[388] According to the Validation Report of the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project issued by SCS Global Services on November 30, 2018, the standards that apply are the version 3.0 of the Standards Third Edition; version 3.1 of the CCB Program Rules; and version 3.0 of the CCB Program Definitions; version 3.7 of VCS Program Guide; and version 3.7 of the VCS standard. The validation report is available on Verra’s registry: https://registry.verra.org/app/projectDetail/VCS/1748 (accessed October 10, 2023). According to the Validation Report of the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project issued by Aster Global Environmental Solutions on August 25, 2021, the standard that applies is the version 1.0 of the Sustainable Development Verified Impact Standard. The validation report is available on Verra’s registry: https://registry.verra.org/app/projectDetail/VCS/1748 (accessed October 10, 2023).

[389] Verra, “CCB Program Definitions,” Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards, June 21, 2017, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/CCB_Program_Definitions_v3.0.pdf (accessed August 12, 2022), p. 5.

[390] Ibid., p. 11.

[391] Letty B. Brown and Zane Haxtema, “Validation Report for the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project,” SCS Global Services, November 30, 2018, https://www.carboncreditcart.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/VALID_REP_PL1748_30NOV2018.pdf (accessed August 18, 2022), p. 74.

[392] Verra, “Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards (Third Edition),” December 2013, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/CCB_Standards_Third_Edition_December_2013.pdf (accessed August 12, 2022), p. 19.

[393] Verra, “CCB Program Definitions,” Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards, June 21, 2017, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/CCB_Program_Definitions_v3.0.pdf (accessed August 12, 2022), p. 7.

[394] Verra, “CCB Program Definitions,” Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards, June 21, 2017, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/CCB_Program_Definitions_v3.0.pdf (accessed August 12, 2022), pp. 5-6.

[395] Verra, “Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards (Third Edition),” December 2013, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/CCB_Standards_Third_Edition_December_2013.pdf (accessed August 12, 2022), p. 25.

[396]  Verra, “Sustainable Development Verified Impact Standard,” January 22, 2019, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Sustainable-Development-Verified-Impact-Standard-v1.0.pdf (accessed August 12, 2022), p. 6.

[397] Ibid., p. 6.

[398] Ibid., p. 10.

[399] Verra, “Sustainable Development Verified Impact Standard,” version 1.0, January 22, 2019, p. 7.

[400] Verra, “Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards (Third Edition),” December 2013, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/CCB_Standards_Third_Edition_December_2013.pdf (accessed August 12, 2022), footnote 60, p. 25.

[401] Patrick Anderson, “Free, Prior, and Informed Consent in REDD+: Principles and Approaches for Policy and Project Development,” RECOFT, GIZ, February 1, 2011, https://www.recoftc.org/publications/0000210, p. 33.

[402] Verra, “Verified Carbon Standard,” version 3.7, June 21, 2017, p. 24.

[403] Verra letter to Human Rights Watch, June 20, 2023, p. 3.

[404] Verra, “Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards (Third Edition),” December 2013, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/CCB_Standards_Third_Edition_December_2013.pdf (accessed August 12, 2022), p. 26.

[405] Verra, “Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards (Third Edition),” December 2013, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/CCB_Standards_Third_Edition_December_2013.pdf (accessed August 12, 2022), p. 19.

[406]Ibid., p. 21.

[407] Ibid., p. 22.

[408] Verra, “Sustainable Development Verified Impact Standard,” version 1.0, January 22, 2019, p. 8.

[409] Verra, “Verified Carbon Standard,” version 3.7, June 21, 2017, pp. 24-25.

[410] Verra, “CCB Program Definitions,” Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards, June 21, 2017, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/CCB_Program_Definitions_v3.0.pdf (accessed August 12, 2022), p. 13.

[411] Ibid., p. 5.

[412] Verra, “Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards (Third Edition),” December 2013, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/CCB_Standards_Third_Edition_December_2013.pdf (accessed August 12, 2022), p.24.

[413] Verra, “Sustainable Development Verified Impact Standard,” January 22, 2019, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Sustainable-Development-Verified-Impact-Standard-v1.0.pdf (accessed August 12, 2022), p. 9.

[414] Verra, “Program Definitions,” January 22, 2019, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/SD-VISta-Program-Definitions-v1.0.pdf (accessed October 26, 2022) p. 3.

[415] Verra, “Sustainable Development Verified Impact Standard,” January 22, 2019, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Sustainable-Development-Verified-Impact-Standard-v1.0.pdf (accessed August 12, 2022), p. 11.

[416] Ibid.

[417] Ibid., p. 10.

[418] Ibid.

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