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Report accuses Cambodian elite of land grabbing frenzy

Fresh documents allege land grabs amounting to ‘crimes against humanity’ affected 830,000 people since 2000
Video News | 23 July 2015

Report accuses Cambodian elite of land grabbing frenzy

By Lauren Crothers

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia  – Fresh documents alleging that Cambodia’s ruling elite continues to indulge in a “land grabbing frenzy” for self enrichment from the poor are being submitted to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague on Wednesday.

A statement from Global Diligence and International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) — made public Wednesday — alleges “widespread and systematic land grabbing conducted by the Cambodian ruling elite for over a decade amounts to a crime against humanity”.

They said that while the original claim outlined how “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”, there is fresh evidence of similar crimes — likened to a “land grabbing frenzy” — that add weight to it.

The claims are in support of an initial “communication”, which was filed with the ICC prosecutor in October 2014 by Richard Rogers, a lawyer with the Global Diligence firm, who was also retained by the opposition CNRP last year to work on the complaint.

FIDH President Karim Lahidji said in the statement that the ICC is in a position to send a “strong message” to the government of Cambodia with regard to its handling of land conflicts.

Land conflicts have come to represent one of the bedrock issues affecting many of the country’s poor farmers, and have given birth to a new generation of activists from communities around the country — many of them embroiled in disputes with powerful, wealthy and well-connected individuals or companies.

The groups are alleging that since 2014 this “frenzy” has affected a further 60,000 people, bringing those affected by land grabbing since 2000” to about 830,000 people from incidents such as forced eviction or persecution.

The original communication said 770,000 people had been affected over the past 14 years.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan told Anadolu Agency on Wednesday that the allegations of crimes against humanity are “false and not strong enough to accuse the government, as well as my prime minister [Hun Sen]”.

“Land grabbing is not a policy of the government or prime minister,” he said.

“We never tolerate it at all from a policy standpoint. There are a number of mechanisms to crack down on land grabbing issues… a number of cases have been brought to court and new measures to prevent land grabbing as well as new mechanisms down to communities to oversight that [have been introduced],” he added.

In addition, the government has also spearheaded the establishment of public forums, held at commune level, “where they can hear people complain about this kind of issue”.

He said the 60,000-figure is a “lie”, and added that officially, the land management authorities have only received complaints in about 500 cases.

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