November 29, 2013
A US-based group of lawyers has launched an online campaign to raise funding to support a lawsuit against a UK company that bought sugar from a Cambodian plantations linked to human rights abuses.
The campaign is being undertaken by the International Senior Lawyers Project, which is representing a number of displaced villagers.
A successful model “can be used to seek justice for victims of land grabbing not just in Cambodia, but really all around the world,” Heather Einsenlord, human rights program director for the project, said. “The potential impact of a small donation can be quite profound and quite broad.”
Lawyers at the project is investigating the 2006 evictions of 200 families in Koh Kong province, who were forced from their plots of land to make way for industrial sugar plantations. Crops were destroyed, and villagers who resisted say they were brutally attacked. Villagers insist they are the lawful holders of the land.
Rights workers have called the products that come from such operations “blood sugar.”
The International Senior Lawyers Project is bringing suit against the UK company Tate and Lyle, claiming it failed at due diligence and did not confirm that operations at its sugar sources were in accordance with international human rights norms. Officials at Tate and Lyle did not immediately comment.
“We can no longer permit multinational corporations to make enormous profit at the expense of other people’s livelihood, and in some cases, other people’s lives,” Einsenlord said.
The project is aiming to raise $15,000 to cover printing costs for maps that would show villagers’ holdings, to help travel costs for villagers to meet with attorneys in Phnom Penh, and to pay local Cambodian lawyers legal fees, as well as other expenses.
Mark Morstein, a lawyer who is working on the case, said the proceedings will provide a foundation for a number of small farmers to understand Cambodia’s legal system—and that if it fails, they have the ability to seek judgement in international courts.
“It recognizes that many of the human rights violations that are occurring in Cambodia actually have a commercial basis,” he said. “There are commercial courts that have the credibility and have the enforcement mechanisms to compel a remedy where the Cambodian courts either cannot or refuse to do so.”
The project’s website was launched Monday: www.globalgiving.org/projects/islp-cambodian-land-grab