Cambodia: ICC preliminary examination requested into crimes stemming from mass land grabbing

A communication filed at the International Criminal Court (ICC) today alleges that widespread and systematic land grabbing conducted by the Cambodian ruling elite for over a decade amounts to a crime against humanity.

The communication contends that senior members of the Cambodian government, its security forces, and government-connected business leaders carried out an attack on the civilian population with the twin objectives of self-enrichment and preservation of power at all costs. Crimes committed as part of this campaign include murder, forcible transfer of populations, illegal imprisonment, persecution, and other inhumane acts.

Given the Cambodian judicial authorities consistent failure to adequately investigate these grave crimes and provide effective remedies to those affected, the ICC now represents the most realistic avenue to bring justice to the victims, said FIDH President Karim Lahidji. We hope the ICC’s involvement will also spur genuine national judicial proceedings since the ICC’s jurisdiction is complementary to national courts.

Victims’ legal representative, Richard J Rogers, is presenting evidence that in the past 14 years, an estimated 770,000 people (6% of the country’s population) have been adversely affected by land grabbing in Cambodia, with over 145,000 people forcibly transferred from the capital, Phnom Penh, alone. Those who have been thrown off their land continue to suffer in appalling conditions in resettlement camps where food insecurity and disease are rife. Indigenous minorities have suffered disproportionately with half their population already excluded from ancestral land.

Those who oppose the ruling elite have been ruthlessly suppressed. Civil society leaders, monks, journalists, lawyers, environmental activists, trade unionists, civilian protestors, and opposition politicians have been assassinated, threatened or imprisoned on trumped-up charges. In 2012 alone local NGOs have documented the arbitrary arrest of 232 rights workers and activists in relation to land issues. The perpetrators of politically motivated crimes have enjoyed complete impunity.

In an era where land-related human rights violations have reached shocking levels, this communication provides the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor with a rare opportunity to confirm the crucial role of international criminal law in protecting peacetime populations from mass forcible transfer, said Richard J Rogers. An ICC intervention will force the Cambodian government to reconsider its approach to land grabbing and suppression of dissidents.

Cambodia ratified the ICC Statute on 11 March 2002, giving the ICC jurisdiction over crimes committed since 1 July 2002 on its territory or by its nationals. Following the analysis of this communication and in accordance with Article 15 of the ICC Statute, the ICC Prosecutor will decide whether a full investigation into the alleged crimes against humanity is warranted.

The communication was submitted by international lawyer - Richard J. Rogers of Global Diligence LLP - on behalf of individual Cambodian victims, and is backed by FIDH.

Read the summary of the communication submitted to the ICC

Download the Q&A

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communique