They threw their weight this week behind a “communication” -- essentially a submission outlining a complaint -- filed with the court in October, saying ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda would create a “hugely positive impact” by accepting the case.
On October 7, British lawyer Richard Rogers submitted the communication saying that land grabs had reached “shocking levels.”
It alleged that the “Ruling Elite’s primary source of self-enrichment stems from land grabbing, which has been perpetrated on a truly massive scale,” but did not name any individuals.
“Capitalising on widespread tenure insecurity resulting from decades of civil war, the Ruling Elite have illegally seized and reallocated millions of hectares of valuable land from poor Cambodians for exploitation or speculation by its members and foreign investors,” the communication said.
It added that the land grabs were being aided and abetted by a “corrupt judiciary and civil service, and enforced by armed State security forces.”
According to the communication, around 770,000 people -- or six percent of Cambodia’s population -- had been negatively affected by land grabs, with at least 145,000 having been forced from the capital Phnom Penh to relocation sites dotted around its outskirts.
The NGOs -- originating in Belgium, Ecuador, Myanmar and the U.S., to name a few — said in their statement: “It would send a powerful message that when land grabbing is widespread or systematic, and reaches a certain level of gravity, international criminal law becomes engaged.”
Rogers’ communication says that if Bensouda should decide to carry out a preliminary examination and follow-up investigation, she could consider crimes dating back as far as July 2002, when Cambodia ratified the ICC Statute, giving it jurisdiction over any crimes committed after that date.
To date, Cambodia has not handed any convictions for crimes against humanity, with the exception of the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Phnom Penh in August.
Former Khmer Rouge officials Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan were sentenced to life in prison at the time for their actions in the lead up to, and following, the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh.
The Khmer Rouge regime was responsible for the deaths of up to 3 million people during the 1975-1979 Killing Fields era.