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ICC focus on land grabs may turn attention to Cambodia

New policy paper may lead to further probing of complaint accusing ruling elite of crimes against humanity over land grabs

Ekip   | 15.09.2016
ICC focus on land grabs may turn attention to Cambodia FILE PHOTO

Phnum Penh

By Lauren Crothers

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia 

The release of a new policy paper on case selections at the International Criminal Court (ICC) could “open the door” for further consideration of a two-year-old complaint in which Cambodia’s ruling elite are accused of crimes against humanity for their part in widespread illegal land grabs.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda issued a new policy paper on case selection and prioritization Thursday, which she said would provide “clear and transparent guidelines” to her office when cases are brought to it.

In her paper, the prosecutor, listed a number of crimes -- among them land grabbing -- committed under national laws that her office stands ready to assist in investigating further.

Bensouda then said “particular consideration” would be given to prosecuting crimes in which there has been an “illegal dispossession of land” and the destruction of the environment.

In October 2014, a “Communication” was put before Bensouda’s office by Global Diligence lawyer Richard J Rogers, which accused Cambodia’s ruling elite of having “illegally seized and reallocated millions of hectares of valuable land from poor Cambodians for exploitation”.

It said an estimated 770,000 Cambodians had been affected by their “kleptocracy”.

At the time of its filing, Rogers alleged that these crimes against humanity were perpetuated from July 2002 to the present day.

Last year, he filed supplementary documents alleging that the land-grabbing “frenzy” continued unabated, and now affected 830,000 people.

He told Anadolu Agency in an email late Thursday that while there has been “no decision yet” from Bensouda’s office as to whether or not she will proceed with the case, he is expecting to hear about it “soon”.

In an earlier email, he welcomed Bensouda’s new policy paper, which “signalled that she will no longer stand by as kleptocratic dictatorships and businesses commit mass human rights violations in the name of profit”.

“This new focus will help close the impunity gap for international crimes committed during peacetime, and open the door for the case filed on behalf of Cambodian victims against Cambodia’s ruling elite,” Rogers said.

Contacted on Friday, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan told Anadolu Agency that land grabs were “almost no longer an issue in Cambodia” and that the allegations were “about the past, not the present”.

When told that the alleged crimes began in 2001, Siphan said issues form the “past have been solved”.

“The issue of land grabs is almost gone in Cambodia,” he said. “We did a rewrite of the policy.”

Last year, an investigation by Global Forest Watch found that deforestation in Cambodia had accelerated at a higher rate than anywhere else in the world between 2011 and 2014, and that Cambodia “lost four times the area of tree cover in 2014 as it did in 2001”.​

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