Cambodia: 60,000 new victims of government land grabbing policy since January 2014

New evidence submitted today to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) shows that the practice of land grabbing has adversely affected over 60,000 additional people since the beginning of 2014.

This long-standing practice, conducted by senior members of the Cambodian government, its security forces, and government-connected business leaders, has entailed forced evictions and population displacement that amount to crimes against humanity. The Supplementary Communication was compiled by lawyer Richard J. Rogers, Partner of Global Diligence LLP, and submitted on behalf of victims with the support of FIDH.

This new evidence of crimes against humanity, stemming from land grabbing, requires urgent action from the ICC Prosecutor. By opening a preliminary examination into the situation, the ICC can send a strong message to the Cambodian government that land grabbing and the policy of persecution must immediately stop, said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

The land grabbing frenzy saw an increase in 2014 and in the first quarter of 2015. It is now estimated that an astounding 830,000 people have been affected by this disruptive practice since 2000. A massive number of people have been forcibly evicted from their homes without adequate compensation or faced other forms of persecution. Many continue to suffer appalling conditions in resettlement camps, where food insecurity and disease are rife.

Last year, 40 civil-society organisations from around the world that focus on land issues urged the ICC to take up the case stating, “We have a duty to protect the victims of land grabs and associated forced evictions who have no chance of obtaining justice in their own countries.” Cambodians themselves have also expressed a strong collective desire to see the ICC Prosecutor investigate the allegations – petitions signed by 7,606 Cambodians in support of the Communication will also be submitted to the ICC.

In an era where serious, land-related crimes have reached shocking levels, this Supplementary Communication provides the ICC 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, lawyer for the victims. We have seen huge support both from Cambodians and from organisations globally, he added.

The Supplementary Communication documents how the crimes stemming from the land grabbing have a disproportionate impact on women, who bear the dual responsibility for childrearing and contributing to household income. The loss of land puts women at additional risk of suffering violence, exploitation, joblessness and associated psychosocial hardships. Women who campaigned against land grabbing have been brutally suppressed and illegally imprisoned.

Women find themselves at a dangerous intersection of violence and hardship, so that these crimes have an aggravating effect on their lives, both within the home and in the public sphere, said Karim Lahidji. Women suddenly find themselves without any livelihood amidst increased community tensions, and at greater risk of suffering reprisals from the authorities if they speak out,” he added.

An initial communication on the issue of land grabbing in Cambodia was submitted to the ICC on 7 October 2014. The document demonstrated that the ruling elite has effectively been carrying out an attack on Cambodia’s civilian population with the twin aims of self-enrichment and preservation its own power, with no regard for the human cost of this policy.

Context

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 these communications and in accordance with Article 15 of the ICC Statute, the ICC Prosecutor will decide whether a preliminary examination into the alleged crimes against humanity is warranted.

Land rights defenders are increasingly the target of repressive measures as explained in the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders annual report.

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