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ICC Cambodian Case study

  • Communication filed before the International Criminal Court:

On 7 October 2014, a legal brief (“a Communication”) was filed on behalf of victims by GD partner, Richard J Rogers, to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. The Communication alleged 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.

The Communication demonstrates 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 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.

The filing was covered by the world’s media – including Financial Times, El Pais, Le Figuro – and was picked up by Reuters and AFP. Commentators called the filing an ‘unprecedented’ and noted its potential repercussions for investors’ accountability in relation to land and natural resources.

Here is a selection of some of the international media coverage (click on the name of the publication to be taken to the source):

  • The Financial Times, “Cambodian claim land grabs are crime against humanity”, Michael Peel, 7 October 2014;
  • Le Figaro, “Le Cambodge accusé devant la CPI”, Alain Barluet, 7 October 2014 ;
  • The Diplomat, “Cambodia’s Ruling Elite May Face ICC Probe Over Land Grab”, Luke Hunt, 7 October 2014 and others.

Read the summary of the communication submitted to the ICC

Read the Q&A on this communication

  • First Supplementary Communication filed before the ICC:

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 supplementary submission, compiled by GD lawyers, was submitted to the Prosecutor of the ICC on 22 July 2015. The supplementary submission gathered the new evidence to support the increasing number of victims and documented how the crimes stemming from the land grabbing have a disproportionate impact on women.

  • From civil society condemnation to a political call for action:

Since the filing of the Communication, both civil society and public actors have voiced their concerns over the serious crimes committed pursuant to Cambodia’s Ruling Elite’s twin objective of self-enrichment and maintaining power at all costs.

In 2014, 40 civil society organisations signed onto the statement: “Civil Society Statement Supporting the Case Filed Against the Cambodian Ruling Elite in the International Criminal Court.” The signatories, who come from a broad-range of geographical, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds “urge the Office of the Prosecutor to initiate a Preliminary Examination with a view to opening a full investigation.” They furthermore stressed that: “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.

Political actors have echoed these concerns and supported the efforts to bring the perpetrators to international justice.

Liberal international, the world federation of liberal and progressive democratic political parties, expressed its support for the ICC communication. The President of Liberal International, Dr Juli Minoves, called on the ICC to investigate the allegations made in the filing.

On 5 November the Communication was debated in the European Parliament. The EEAS representative assured the Committee that “those kind of accusations of crimes against humanity and raising it to the ICC we take it very seriously and will continue to look at it very seriously.” The representative of the European Commission stated that land grabbing was “a very important issue worldwide” and that the ICC Communication was “a very interesting initiative”. A guest panellist added that she “obviously welcomes the fact that now a case has been brought against the [Cambodian] Ruling Elite specifically on land grabbing…”

On 21 August 2015, Global Diligence partner, Richard J Rogers, testified before the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, Sub-Committee on Asia and Pacific. Rogers was one of six experts who provided evidence at a hearing on ‘Property Rights and Development in South East Asia.’ Five US Congressmen attended the hearing, including Chairman Ed Royce – Chairman of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee – and Matt Salmon – Chairman of the Sub-Committee on Asia and Pacific. In his opening remarks, Chairman Royce stated:

“Consider Cambodia, where according to some reports, over half of landholdings are held informally, without any legal title. As the Cambodian economy has developed, many Cambodians have been displaced. Government cronies and domestic and foreign businesses are responsible for seizing land. The government has appropriated land and homes, sometimes forcibly, for agricultural, mining, logging, and tourism.” (Ed Royce, Opening Statement)

Around 600 people attended the hearing, mostly Cambodian Americans.

On 15 September 2016, the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC released a new policy paper, indicating that for the first time in history, an international criminal court will prioritise crimes within its jurisdiction that are committed by means of or result in “the destruction of the environment, the illegal exploitation of natural resources, or the illegal dispossession of land.” This new focus will help close the impunity gap for international crimes committed during peacetime, and opens the door for an ICC investigation into crimes alleged in our ICC Communication.