The second part of this paper discusses the situation and rights of indigenous peoples in Cambodia in the light of Kymlicka’s theory of group-differentiated citizenship. The terms ‘indigenous peoples’, ‘indigenous nations’, ‘highland peoples’, ‘highlanders’, ‘hill tribes’, and the like are used synonymously throughout the paper. This terminology is misleading insofar as it does not reflect the diversity of languages and cultures among the various groups making up Cambodia’s indigenous population. However, a number of important characteristics are shared by all those groups. And despite the diversity of indigenous groups, the problems and challenges faced by its members vis-à-vis the majority population appear to be similar in many respects. To put the discussion of indigenous peoples into context, other groups will be considered as well.
Generally, applying Kymlicka’s typology to Cambodia’s cultural diversity leads to the conclusion that Cambodia is both polyethnic and multinational: there are both ethnic groups and national minorities. Among others, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Muslim Cham are ethnic groups, while only the hill tribes qualify as national minorities, more precisely, indigenous peoples, in Cambodia. There are no national minorities in Cambodia other than indigenous peoples. In other words: there are no substate-nations. A brief overview over Cambodia’s cultural diversity will be followed by a short discussion of the incorporation of Vietnamese, Chams, and Chinese into the Cambodian state. This review will show that the incorporation of these groups generally came about voluntarily, more specifically: in the absence of coercion on the part of the Cambodian state. Moreover, the discussion will show that these groups form ethnic communities and maintain an identity different from the mainstream society, yet are linguistically and institutionally integrated into the institutions of the majority culture. The remaining parts of this paper will focus on Cambodia’s highlanders. The discussion will show that these groups in Cambodia came into existence fundamentally different than the incorporation of other groups. While members of various ethnic groups essentially chose to come to Cambodia, indigenous peoples did not. Rather, Cambodia came to them. Members of various hill tribes or their ancestors did not ask to become citizens of Cambodia and their incorporation involved considerable measures of coercion. Moreover, the following sections will show that indigenous groups do not linguistically and institutionally integrate into Cambodia’s mainstream society. Rather, they tend to maintain and perpetuate not only elements of their ethnic heritage, but institutionally complete cultures. Taken together, the discussion will show that distinguishing national minorities and ethnic groups corresponds to relatively stable patterns of cultural diversity in Cambodia. Moreover, the concept of indigenous groups is not unfamiliar in Cambodia. For easier orientation, the following table provides an overview of Cambodia’s cultural minorities and their classification along the lines of Kymlicka’s typology. To facilitate a better understanding, this is contrasted with a classification of Vietnam’s cultural minorities along the same lines.
The following sections will discuss the role of the Cambodian state concerning the reproduction of cultural groups and assess the relevance and validity of the dialectic of state nation-building and minority rights with regard to Cambodian hill tribes. This discussion will show that the Cambodian state is engaged in nation-building and potentially disadvantages members of cultural minorities. The argumentation will support the case that various indigenous groups should be given a meaningful measure of self-government rights and possibly special representation rights. The paper will then analyze the situation of indigenous peoples in the framework of the current decentralization program in order to assess the extent to which the devolution of power provides various groups of highland peoples with protection against unjust majority nation-building. This analysis will include the results of empirical research carried out among indigenous communities and recently empowered Commune Councils in various provinces in Cambodia. The analysis will conclude that a general decentralization is not enough to improve the well-being of members of various indigenous groups. To ensure equality among members of different groups, decentralization must devolve power to communes with majorities of particular groups. Based on this analysis, possibilities to make the decentralization framework more responsive to the right and fair demands of indigenous peoples will be discussed. Finally, the paper will reflect on the limitations of Kymlicka’s theory in the Cambodian context. In short, the argument is that this theory provides a useful framework to analyze and understand the demands of cultural diversity with regard to indigenous peoples. However, the policy recommendations stemming from this theory need to be adapted to match the specific situation in Cambodia. Kymlicka’s theory can provide guidance to the development of local solutions.