Cambodian farmers accusing Bolloré of spoliation are asked to show proof

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Le Monde | 11 November 2019 [FR]

(Loose translation by GRAIN)

Cambodian farmers accusing Bolloré of spoliation are asked to show proof

Eighty Bunong farmers feel they have been robbed of their native forest, which was replaced by rubber plantations.
 
By Patricia Jolly

In an order issued on 8 November, the court “invites” everyone to produce before the January deadline – when a hearing of the case will be held – “any official document that establishes the existence, nature, locale, exact area and reference of the land or lands whose restitution is demanded”, “any individual notarised official document establishing each complainant’s ownership of the lands they claim” and “any document proving their civil status”.
Eighty Bunongs – farmers from Mondol Kiri, a province in the east of Cambodia – who are accusing the French industrialist Vincent Bolloré of grabbing their lands in 2008 to make way for rubber plantations, will have to prove their identity and show land titles by 20 January 2020.

In an order issued on 8 November, the court “invites” everyone to produce before the January deadline – when a hearing of the case will be held – “any official document that establishes the existence, nature, locale, exact area and reference of the land or lands whose restitution is demanded”, “any individual notarised official document establishing each complainant’s ownership of the lands they claim” and “any document proving their civil status”.

The judge says that only “53 copies of identity documents, often of mediocre quality and with few references in Roman characters” are currently in the possession of the court, that these documents “mention”, for some, “names that are different from those on the document introducing the proceedings” and that some certificates “show inconsistencies and have no information about the locale involved in the disputed lands”.

Operational power

In the summer of 2015, Attorney Fiodor Rilov filed a case against the Bolloré group at the regional court of Nanterre on behalf of the farmers, who practice shifting agriculture and have animist beliefs. His clients accuse the group of appropriating, without their consent, several thousand hectares of their native forests to transform them into rubber plantations in the township of Bousra in Cambodia.

This transfer allegedly occurred with the approval of the Cambodian government through Socfin-KCD, a joint venture between Socfinasia, a holding company in Luxembourg whose shareholders include the Bolloré group, with nearly 39 %, and Khao Chuly, a Cambodian construction company with close ties to the government in Phnom Penh.

According to the Bunongs, who are demanding restitution of their lands plus damages and interest, but are at pains to gather the documents requested by the court to show alleged harm, the Bolloré group has had operational authority over their lands through Terres Rouges Consultant (TRC), a company that was closed in 2012 but whose headquarters were situated until then in the Bolloré Tower in Puteaux (Hauts-de-Seine).

Nine of the 80 complainants travelled to France on 1 October to attend a court hearing where they requested the disclosure of TRC’s leases, personnel register, list of officers and principle clients, and contracts, as this would allow them, they say, to prove their case. In addition, they requested the appointment of an expert to examine the consequences, for each of them, of the creation and operation of the disputed plantations.

“Used”

On 8 November, the court rejected all these demands on the grounds that the Bunongs
“have not produced any piece of evidence concerning the operational power they claim existed between Terres Rouges Consultant, Bolloré and Compagnie du Cambodge, nor have they produced any evidence establishing their ownership of the lands and, consequently, the existence of the alleged harm.” It added that “no investigatory measure can be ordered to compensate for a party’s inability in administering proof.”

The Bolloré group has always asserted that it has “strictly no connection with this case” which reflects a “strictly Cambodian problem”. Contacted by Le Monde, Mr. Olivier Baratelli, one of their lawyers, said he was “amazed” to see “these people [the nine Bunong plaintiffs present at the 1 October hearing, assisted by interpreters], who understand absolutely nothing, being used and paraded in front of the media to attract sympathy from public opinion.”

“Mr. Rilov had the temerity to file this case without even knowing if these people exist,” Baratelli pursued. “On 20 January 2020, we will see if his clients will have responded to the court’s request, but we have asked for their identity documents for four years, so I do not see how they could miraculously appear.”

“We are not at all discouraged,” Attorney Rilov told Le Monde, insisting that he is counting on the court undertaking on a full examination of the case by the end of 2020. “The Cambodian farmers are aware that this is only one step in their long journey. We will produce the missing identity documents currently being requested, and the documents that the court has declined to give us can surely be obtained through other means.”

article in French: http://farmlandgrab.org/29291
Original source: Le Monde
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