Without any words, Sal Hnok takes a bullet out of his pocket. A bullet that was shot at him on January 3rd of 2012, when he was trying to defend his land.
Sal Hnok, 60, lives in a village in eastern Cambodia.
In 2012, HAGL, a Vietnamese company, one of the biggest investors in the region, started clearing out the forest around his village, without any consultation or consent from the villagers.
Seeing this, Hnok and 38 other villagers protested.
“I told the company drivers who operated the tractors to stop. You can’t clear this land and forest, I said. It is the identity of our indigenous people.”
Hnok is a Kachok. Like other indigenous groups in the region, Kachok people are traditionally animist, and their culture, livelihoods and identities are intimately connected to the land, forests and other natural resources around them.
But the company’s workers responded aggressively. For them, there were no Araks, forest spirits, here. Just land they had to clear.
“Is it wrong to defend our land?” Hnok and his fellow villagers took down the company’s tents and started to walk away. That’s when the company’s workers shot at them.
But Hnok wasn’t going to be stopped by bullets. Like other indigenous inhabitants of his village, he had received training on land laws, indigenous rights, rights to “Free Prior and Informed Consent”, as well as influencing tactics and skills, by Oxfam’s local partner, Highland Association.
Hnok intensively engaged with other affected villages to file a complaint about the company’s wrongdoings. As a result of their relentless fight, with support from a number of local NGOs, a formal meeting was held with HAGL in September 2015. The affected indigenous communities obtained significant victories: the company agreed to map out the communities’ land, put in place reparations as well as a grievance mechanism; use environment-friendly products…
HAGL has started to measure the land they cleared outside of their concession. Measuring will go on after Vietnamese New Year, in March 2016.
“My hope is that our community will be strong and NGOs will continue to support indigenous villagers to defend their lands and forests. If we get the lands back from the company, our children’s generation will be happy and live peacefully. They will have gratitude and respect for their elders and ancestors. Through my effort to defend our lands and forests, I want to be a role model and a hero for the next generation.”
Photo: Savann Oeurm/Oxfam
On March 3rd 2016, Berta Cáceres, an Honduran environmental activist and indigenous leader of the Lenca people, was brutally murdered for having taken a courageous stand to protect the land and natural resources her community depends on. Less than two weeks after Berta Cáceres was murdered, another land activist, Nelson García, was shot and killed for supporting Lenca people .
Join the fight and demand justice now! No more activists should pay with their lives for standing for their people’s rights! Sign the petition to stop the Agua Zarca dam project here: https://act.oxfam.org/international/end-the-violence