land conflicts

International Criminal Court (ICC) will try land grabs and environmental destruction, human trafficking - test case Cambodia?

The Hague, ICC: COMPANY EXECUTIVES COULD NOW BE TRIED FOR LAND GRABS AND ENVIRONMENTAL DESTRUCTION Press release / 15 Sep 2016 -- A move by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to expand its focus signals a landmark shift in international criminal justice and could reshape how business is done in developing countries, says Global Witness. Company executives, politicians and other individuals could now be held criminally responsible under international law for crimes linked to land grabbing and environmental destruction...... Global Witness: a case filed in 2014 that catalogues mass human rights abuses linked to systematic land seizures in Cambodia, where business leaders have been working hand-in-glove with the country’s kleptocratic government. (3).... (3) This case will be a key test for the ICC’s new policy. If accepted, this would be the first case in international criminal law where the primary allegations relate to the illegal exploitation of land. Corporate actors in Cambodia could be the prime targets for investigation - they have been complicit in a widespread and systematic campaign of illegal land seizures, leading to the forcible displacement of hundreds of thousands of Cambodians with the help of the state police, military and judiciary. The case was filed at the ICC by international human rights lawyer Richard J Rogers, of the law firm Global Diligence LLP, relying on evidence collected by Cambodian and international organisations, including Global Witness....

References to environment and trafficking in "OFFICE OF THE PROSECUTOR - POLICY PAPER ON CASE SELECTION AND PRIORITISATION," 15 September 2016

7. ... In particular, it will seek to cooperate with States who are investigating and prosecuting individuals who have committed or have facilitated the commission The Office will also seek to cooperate and provide assistance to States, upon request, with respect to conduct which constitutes a serious crime under national law, such as the illegal exploitation of natural resources, arms trafficking, human trafficking, terrorism, financial crimes, land grabbing or the destruction of the environment (See article 93(10) of the Statute).

40. The manner of commission of the crimes may be assessed in light of, inter alia, the means employed to execute the crime, the extent to which the crimes were systematic or resulted from a plan or organised policy or otherwise resulted from the abuse of power or official capacity, the existence of elements of particular cruelty, including the vulnerability of the victims, any motives involving discrimination held by the direct perpetrators of the crimes, the use of rape and  other sexual or gender-based violence or crimes committed by means of, or
resulting in, the destruction of the environment or of protected objects (See articles 8(2)(b)(ix) and 8(2)(e)(iv) of the Statute).

41. The impact of the crimes may be assessed in light of, inter alia, the increased vulnerability of victims, the terror subsequently instilled, or the social, economic and environmental damage inflicted on the affected communities. In this context, the Office will give particular consideration to prosecuting Rome Statute crimes that are committed by means of, or that result in, inter alia, the destruction of the environment, the illegal exploitation of natural resources or the illegal dispossession of land., and referring page,

Sarawak controversies

Global Witness, a corruption busting NGO focusing on resource-based industries, recently released a video sting on Sarawak land deals. The video features cousins of the long-time Sarawak Chief Minister Taib and two lawyers. They are shown explaining to the purported foreign investor how he might acquire oil palm plantation land and circumvent Malaysian regulations on foreign-ownership limits and evade real property gains tax by using nominees and effecting so-called secret payments via a Singapore entity.

source:, accessed 11pm on 22 March 2013

Khor Reports comment:

Stories about timber and oil palm links to corruption are not new. Various NGOs have been featuring similar issues in Sarawak. These include the Bruno Manser Fund and the Sarawak Report (run by Clare Rewcastle Brown, a sister-in-law of UK ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown). Global Witness is a prominent NGO and its film about Sarawak land dealings is attention-grabbing. Sarawak issues may gain more global attention, building on other NGO exposes. Global Witness notes on its website: "Our campaigning led to the creation of the precedent-setting Kimberley Process Certification Scheme and to our joint nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. Three years later we contributed to research and campaigning around the 2006 Hollywood blockbuster, Blood Diamond."

Indeed, the Global Witness report, "Corruption in Malaysia laid bare as investigation catches Sarawak’s ruling elite on camera," (weblink:, has garnered over 900,000 views on youtube in just three days (in English and Malay languages).

Sarawak is Malaysia’s remaining frontier for oil palm expansion, and various controversies have arisen in recent years. These include:

a)    The IOI–Pelita landmark case: At end March 2010, the Miri High Court declared four natives the winner in a class action suit against the Sarawak government, Land Custody and Development Authority and IOI Pelita Plantation Sdn Bhd. Reports on the RSPO website indicates that IOI subsequently lost control of the estate.
b)    Hundreds of pending land dispute cases: A listing of land disputes for 1995 to 2010 is available on various Sarawak linked websites, including here: 
c)    Sime Darby case: A former CEO of the largest plantation company in the world, stands accused of CBT over a Sarawak oil palm land deal apparently gone sour.

d)    Recent expansion: Some academic satellite imagery studies show significant oil palm development in Sarawak in recent years (including on peat land). This supports recent comments by Dorab Mistry, a key speaker on palm oil market and prices, that there has been significant expansion in the Sarawak palm oil sector.

Documentary on soy in Argentina

An interesting documentary on soy in Argentina. The film makers highlight problem of GM soy, using large amounts of pesticide. Argentine doctors interviewed worry that this has resulted in birth defects and childhood cancer in local populations living near soy fields. Soy growers say they are using pesticides the government has approved. Violent encounters over land also a concern.View here:

Cambodia local elections impacted by land discontent?

Cambodian PM's party triumphs in election test run,PHNOM PENH | Tue Jun 5, 2012 5:37am EDT:"Official results from Sunday's elections for the chiefs of areas known as communes are not expected for several weeks but the major parties were in agreement that Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) had swept the polls, as it has in all national ballots in the past decade. The CPP claimed 72 percent of the seats in what it sees as a test of support ahead of the 2013 election. General elections take place every five years....The latest polls did throw up some signs of discontent, with the CPP's notable loss of seats in areas that have seen long-running land disputes and forced evictions from land leased to foreign companies. The government suspended new land concessions to foreign firms in May...."

Khor Reports comment: In the 2007 commune elections, the Cambodian People's Party won 1,592 commune chief (97%) out of 1,633 communes. The claimed victory of 72% of seats last month suggests a 17%-age point reduction in the number of seats. Just before the elections, new economic land concessions to foreigners were frozen. In the previous two years, there had been a surge in award of such concessions. Land disputes seem to be rife and these have apparently impacted on the ruling party's electoral results, although it still holds a very commanding position. When we started to research Cambodia agricultural concessions several years ago, there was little sign of NGO activity. Now, there are several active on land dispute matters. One is focused on sugar projects, lobbying foreign-buyers to boycott Cambodian sugar because of land conflicts.