No more excuses for EU inaction on Cambodian exports tainted by land grabbing

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) welcomes the resolution adopted by the European Parliament on 26 October which calls on the European Commission to “investigate the escalation of human rights abuses in Cambodia.”

The resolution points to the cause of this escalation being clearly tied to economic land concessions or land grabbing linked to exports to the European Union. The MEPs call upon the EU to “temporarily suspend Everything But Arms (EBA) preferences on agricultural products from Cambodia in cases where human rights abuses are identified.”

This call should be heeded without delay. This past decade alone has seen over 400,000 Cambodians affected by land-grabbing and forced evictions in Phnom Penh and 12 other provinces. Human rights defenders assisting these victims of land rights violations have faced increasing intimidation, criminalisation, and even assassination. Violations of land and housing rights are on-going, widespread and systematic, and have considerably increased since Cambodia benefits from the EU’s EBA initiative [1]]]. EU trade preferences have encouraged a race in the production and export of certain lucrative agricultural goods, notably sugar, which was shown to have contributed to serious human rights violations in Cambodia.

In light of credible and extensive evidence of widespread abuses, it has become more and more difficult for the European Commissioner for Trade to ignore the connection between these abuses and Cambodian exports benefiting from EU trade instruments. The European Commission can no longer afford to remain insular to the calls for action and concerns raised by farmers, human rights defenders and civil society organizations, said Debbie Stothard, FIDH deputy Secretary General.

Calls for an investigation have been reiterated to the European Commissioner for Trade, Karel de Gucht, for the past two years, including in a joint letter last June by ten Cambodian and international civil society organisations [2], and more recently by representatives of Cambodian communities affected by land-grabbing associated with sugar plantations [3]. However, the reply received in August from Commissioner De Gucht was a ’wait and see position’. On 24 September, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Surya P. Subedi, stated that "there are well documented serious and widespread human rights violations associated with land concessions that need to be addressed and remedied”A [4].

FIDH welcomes the step taken by the European Parliament and recalls that that EU has an obligation to ensure that it does not contribute to human rights violations through lack of action. Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty and as confirmed in the EU Strategic Framework and Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy [5], the EU must put human rights at the heart of its external relations including those concerning trade policy.

This resolution reminds the EU that, while Cambodians are braving violence and imprisonment to fight for their rights in the face of an increasingly abusive government, it also has the obligations to make sure its own policies do not in any way contribute to the on-going abuses in Cambodia,” added Ms. Stothard.

Read FIDH’s briefing note: “Cambodia: A Mounting Human Rights Crisis,”

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