Doctrine divides, Action unites


  October 2014


ICC Preliminary Examination Requested into Crimes Stemming from Mass Land-Grabbing in Cambodia

International Federation for Human Rights and Global Diligence LLP

Cambodians protest the grabbing of their land. Now they are getting
assistance from the international legal community that has filed a
complaint with the International Criminal Court that alleges that this
forcible eviction is a crime against humanity.
(Photo from

A communication filed at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Oct. 7 alleges that widespread and systematic land-grabbing conducted by the Cambodian ruling elite for more than 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.

“Given the Cambodian judicial authorities consistent failure to adequately investigate these grave crimes and provide effective remedies to those affected, the ICC now represents the most realistic avenue to bring justice to the victims,” said Karim Lahidji, president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). “We hope the ICC’s involvement will also spur genuine national judicial proceedings since the ICC’s jurisdiction is complementary to national courts.”

The legal representative for the victims, Richard J. Rogers, is presenting evidence that in the past 14 years an estimated 770,000 people, or 6 percent of the country’s population, have been adversely affected by land-grabbing in Cambodia with more than 145,000 people forcibly transferred from the capital of Phnom Penh alone. Those who have been thrown off their land continue to suffer in appalling conditions in resettlement camps where food insecurity and disease are rife. Indigenous minorities have suffered disproportionately with half their population already excluded from ancestral land.

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 non-governmental organizations (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.

“In an era where land-related human rights violations have reached shocking levels, this communication provides the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor with a rare opportunity to confirm the crucial role of international criminal law in protecting peacetime populations from mass forcible transfer,” said Rogers. “An ICC intervention will force the Cambodian government to reconsider its approach to land-grabbing and the suppression of dissidents.”

Cambodia ratified the ICC Statute on March 11, 2002, giving the ICC jurisdiction over crimes committed since July 1, 2002, on its territory or by its nationals. Following the analysis of this communication and in accordance with Article 15 of the ICC Statute, the ICC prosecutor will decide whether a full investigation into the alleged crimes against humanity is warranted.

The communication was submitted by Rogers, an international lawyer with Global Diligence LLP, on behalf of individual Cambodian victims and is backed by FIDH.

* The International Federation for Human Rights, or FIDH, which is based in Paris, has a presence in 16 Asian countries, including Cambodia, with 22 member organizations in the region. The protection of human rights defenders, the abolition of the death penalty and upholding the rights of women as well as people’s economic, social and cultural rights are among its priorities.

Global Diligence LLP is an international law firm with offices in London and Paris that provides legal advisory services related to public interest cases whose partners include Richard J. Rogers


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