Cambodian Offset Project Led to Arrests, Evictions of Indigenous People, Report Alleges

A village in the Southern Cardamom carbon offset project in Cambodia.

A village in the Southern Cardamom carbon offset project in Cambodia. Human Rights Watch

Indigenous people in southern Cambodia faced forced evictions and criminal charges after their ancestral lands were marked out for a carbon offset project, a new report alleges.

In 2015, Cambodian officials, working with the conservation group Wildlife Alliance, set aside more than 1,900 square miles of rainforest in the Cardamon Mountains for a carbon offset project. Officials did so without the consent of the Chong people, who have lived in the mountains for centuries, according to a report from Human Rights Watch.

Based on interviews with more than 91 people living within the bounds of the project, the report details how villagers were forced from their lands and in some cases arrested and detained for months without trial.

A woman in Chumnoab commune said officials burned her family’s rice crop in 2022. “Everybody is banned from entering the forest, but many people have farmland there,” she said. “I don’t have a grain of rice this year, I’m borrowing money to buy food.”

A man in O’Som commune described being arrested for collecting resin in 2021. “They destroyed everything I had with me — even the clothes on my back,” he said. “All I was left with was my underwear. They destroyed our resin as well by pouring it out.”

Cambodian officials and the Wildlife Alliance maintain that they acted legally, in consultation with villagers, and said that the project has paid for wells, toilets, schools, a road, and a health post. Going forward, Wildlife Alliance said it will support the titling of Indigenous lands and provide human rights training to its staff and to the government rangers it works with.

Verra, which has accredited nearly half of carbon offset projects globally, certified the Cardamon project in 2018. After learning of the alleged human rights abuses in June, the group stopped issuing carbon credits from the project. It is now undertaking its own investigation.


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