The role of Krak Srok and other traditional practices in conflict resolution have, for the first time, been recorded in handbooks which aim to help preserve and provide a better understanding of indigenous cultural identity which, until now, has been shared only through word of mouth.
“These handbooks serve as an important source to assist us in our work relating to the indigenous people as well as to protect their identity from disappearing,” Ms. Pen Rany, a UNDP representative, said in a speech at the launching ceremony of the handbooks on 26 March.
Six handbooks have been developed by the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Interior, in collaboration with Cambodian Indigenous Youth Association and with support of UNDP’s Access to Justice Project. They contain detailed information gathered from four villages in Ratanakiri and two villages in Mondulkiri provinces about the role of traditional authorities, the process of conflict resolution, the traditional rules in solving conflicts on different issues, and indigenous peoples’ cultural norms and traditions.
Community elder, or Krak Srok, is the highest level to which disputing parties refer to after failing to reach a solution at lower levels of mediation. One of the lower-tier mediators is known as Kanong, or the middleman. They are used by each party in a conflict to carry messages from one side to the other to try to find a solution. If they have exhausted all options and still failed, all parties will be referred to Krak Srok whose words are considered the final ruling for all sides to follow.
Once a dispute is solved, the unsuccessful party is made to pay monetary compensation to the other and sacrifice livestock – chicken, pig or buffalo – and host an event where both parties eat and drink together. The rest of the community is also invited to join the party to celebrate the solution in the spirit of keeping communal harmony.
However, such customary rules are not yet recognized by local government authorities and formal justice operators. In documenting those traditions and norms, Yin Sopheap, a UNDP’s legal specialist who co-authored the books, said the aim was also to raise awareness among the public and government about indigenous people’s practices so that their ways of solving conflicts can be maintained in their community.
He added that the information was also equally important to legal practitioners working with indigenous communities and to lawmakers who draft laws and government policies so that they can take these different practices into consideration.
“It is our hope that these handbooks can be used as a tool to advocate the government to officially recognize the rules and mechanism of the indigenous people in conflict resolution as well as to manage their small communities,” he said.
The handbooks were produced as part of a larger initiative to support the alternative dispute resolution mechanism and to examine how traditional systems could be recognized within the formal system and how the two could function in a complementary way. They were jointly developed by the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Justice with support from UNDP and the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID).
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