Is Nothing Sacred?

January 8, 2021
A
spirit mountain and burial site known as Patu Mountain – that is a place of worship and sacred to local Indigenous communities in Ratanakiri in northeastern Cambodia was recently cleared and bulldozed by Vietnamese rubber company Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL). The company’s majority investor, THACO, builds and assembles vehicles in Vietnam for major global auto brands such as Mazda, Kia, Hyundai and Peugeot. 

Indigenous people in Muoy and Inn villages in Ratanakiri were recently heartbroken to find that rubber agribusiness HAGL had partially cleared the sacred Patu Mountain, bulldozed and filled in the nearby Ansang and Rok Creeks, and fenced off important wetland areas that are traditionally used by local villagers for foraging for wild vegetables. “The Patu spirit mountain is a sacred place,” says Rochom Byun, a community representative from Muoy village. “Right now it is being destroyed. The Spirit will be angered, causing us to become sick. We have lost part of our tradition. Where can we go to pray?”  

The badly destroyed sacred Patu Mountain and two creeks were areas earmarked as part of a deal brokered by a World Bank watchdog in 2017 for the return of 742 hectares of Indigenous customary land to 17 Indigenous villages in Ratanakiri that had earlier been misappropriated by HAGL and its subsidiaries 

HAGL has a disastrous record of land grabbing and deforestation, and this latest episode is the second bout of destruction within the past nine months. Under the cover of Covid-19, in spring 2020, HAGL brazenly cleared culturally important spirit mountains, hunting areas and burial grounds of Indigenous communities in Ratanakiri.  

A coalition of five civil society organisations, including Equitable Cambodia, Highlanders Association, Cambodian Indigenous Youth Association, Indigenous Rights Action Movement and Inclusive Development International, recently publicly called out HAGL for its latest clearances. This latest act of destruction is a crystalclear example of the company’s dishonesty and its lack of respect for the agreements struck with the local Indigenous community, says Eang Vuthy, Executive Director of Equitable Cambodia. We appeal to the [Cambodian] Government to take action in order to stop HAGL from further land clearance and provide remedies for the cultural harms caused to the local Indigenous peoples.” 

Mighty Earth is calling on HAGL Agri to respect its previous commitments to return the land wrongfully taken from the Indigenous communities in Ratanakiri. Mighty Earth also believes that HAGL’s largest investor, THACO, and its global business partners including Mazda, Kia, Hyundai and Peugeot have a responsibility to ensure that HAGL respects the rights of the affected Indigenous communities, and to ensure that their land is returned, reparations made, and local forests, waterways, and culturally important sites are swiftly restored.