CAMBODIA

Cambodian land grab victims take their case to the ICC in The Hague

Petition cites major human rights violations by Cambodia's 'ruling elite'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 October, 2014, 3:11am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 October, 2014, 3:11am
AFP

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Victims of land grabs by Cambodia's "ruling elite" called yesterday for the International Criminal Court to probe their mass evictions as a crime against humanity.

Hundreds of thousands of Cambodians have been affected as part of a "widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population, pursuant to state policy", said a complaint to be filed at The Hague-based ICC.

"The ruling elite have illegally seized and reallocated millions of hectares of valuable land from poor Cambodians for exploitation or speculation by its members and foreign investors," said the complaint to be filed on behalf of victims by lawyer Richard Rogers.

Aid groups estimate that 770,000 people, or 6 per cent of Cambodia's population, have been evicted since 2000, including 20,000 people in the first three months of this year.

At least four million hectares of land have been confiscated, which represents 22 per cent of Cambodia's land area, often for lucrative rubber or sugar plantations.

"Anyone who resists is being shot, raped, wrongfully prosecuted," Rogers said. "The violations of human rights are massive.

"All this for the tiny elite ruling over the country to get richer and to retain power."

Land grab victims were either sent to resettlement camps or left with nowhere to go, he said.

While Western countries had tried to condition aid on human rights, China was increasingly "giving money without asking questions," Rogers said.

The "ruling elite" had quelled resistance with attacks on civil society leaders, monks, journalists, lawyers, environmental activists and protesters, the complaint said, allegedly including more than 300 politically motivated murders since the 1990s.

Anyone can file a complaint with the office of ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who must decide whether there is sufficient evidence to warrant an official investigation.

Cambodia has ratified the court's Rome Statute, meaning the ICC has jurisdiction over the most serious crimes committed there since 2002.

One eviction to make way for a development in Phnom Penh in January 2009 saw police armed with guns, electric and steel batons, wooden sticks, tear gas and water cannon forcibly remove 400 families.

"When I saw the eviction it really was worse than Pol Pot," said an unnamed social worker and eviction victim, referring to the late leader of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime, which ruled the country from 1975 to 1979.