The Rubber Case
Following the illegal economic land concessions (ELCs) granted by the Cambodian government to the Vietnamese multinational Hoan Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) in Ratanakiri province in northeastern Cambodia, the company began clearing land for the purposes of rubber plantations. These lands, which amounted to over 40.000 hectares, belong to 14 indigenous communities which have lived in these areas from ancestral times.
These indigenous communities who once called this area home, practiced indigenous traditions and lived and farmed sustainability, were forcibly removed from their land, and in many cases, deprived of food security, access to water, and their traditional ways of life. Today, HAGL occupies 47,370 hectares of land in the province – nearly five times the legal limit individual corporations are allowed to hold in Cambodia.
In 2013, Equitable Cambodia began working with the local communities and partner NGOs to raise awareness about the widespread human rights abuses perpetrated by HAGL and its subsidiaries. Equitable Cambodia and its partner Inclusive Development International (IDI) conducted a human rights impact assessment of the HAGL land concessions which found multiple human rights violations due to the concessions. Communities lost farming and rice field land, forest, grazing land for livestock, land reserved for shifting cultivation, access to resin trees and forest products such forest vegetables and fruit, burial grounds, and forests spiritual to indigenous people. The loss of this land has been devastating for indigenous communities who rely on natural resources for food and to sustain their livelihoods.
Through a new innovative initiative called Follow the Money, which uncovers the financial backers of projects, EC and IDI have drawn attention to HAGL’s numerous international backers, including the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank’s private lending arm. The Follow the Money Initiative has been effective in pushing HAGL’s investors to apply pressure on HAGL to redress their human rights violations.
Complaint to the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO)
In February 2014, EC and IDI assisted in the submission of a complaint on behalf of 17 indigenous villages to the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), the independent recourse mechanism of the World Bank. The complaint states how the International Finance Corporation (IFC) invested in companies that violated international law, Cambodian law, and the IFC’s own environmental and safeguard policies. One of HAGL’s investors, a Vietnamese equity fund called Dragon Capital, is partly owned by the IFC. However, the IFC failed to conduct suitable due diligence which matched the high-risk nature of its investment, and did not monitor the use of the investment.
The complaint details harms suffered by communities as a result of their land seized for the HAGL concession. This includes the severe loss of livelihoods from the inability to farm or to access natural resources from the forest, and the loss of indigenous community identity due the loss of land collectively farmed, and the loss of spiritual forests and burial grounds central to traditional practices. Multiple violations of Cambodian law are cited, including laws protecting the land rights of indigenous communities and protect forests.
As a result of the complaint, EC and IDI are currently representing 14 indigenous communities, approximately 10,000 people, in an ongoing dispute resolution process between HAGL and affected communities, mediated by the CAO.
Update on the CAO Dispute Resolution Process: The Siem Reap Agreements
In September 2015, historical agreements were reached through the CAO mediated dispute resolution process in Siem Riep province. As a part of the agreements HAGL pledged to: i) not conduct any further land clearance or development around its concessions; ii) provide infrastructure improvements; iii) return land belonging to the communities or provide compensation; iv) restore the damaged roads, bridges and water sources; engage in joint trips with the communities and CAO to map the lands of the communities; v) support the communities in acquiring communal land titles, should they choose to do so; vi) and establish a long-term grievance mechanism for the company’s activities.
The next step in EC’s work is to put the terms of these agreements in effect in order to ensure that local residents whose land and livelihood were infringed by the corporation's operations are compensated for their losses, have their lands returned and are able to exercise full long-term management of their lands in an autonomous and self-sustainable way.
Mapping Community Lands and Cooperation of all Stakeholders
Between February and November 2016, community members, with the support and advice of EC, led a series of joint-mapping trips to the 14 communities with HAGL representatives, provincial authorities and CAO mediators using advanced GPS and GIS technology. This enshrined EC’s paramount principle of full-community empowerment, since the claims over the external boundaries and areas of communal customary use of each village were made and organized by the villagers themselves.
As a result of this joint demarcation, three villages (Kachout, Ket and Nay villages) have officially been excised/excluded from the HAGL concessions, and these villages are now safe from any future land encroachment by HAGL. These milestones were confirmed by HAGL’s Board of Directors through a letter to the communities.
EC and partner NGOs, with the CAO’s facilitation, contributed to building relationships with governmental authorities and HAGL during the dispute resolution process. As a result, a Provincial Working Group was created by the Provincial Government of Ratanakiri, with support and coordination of EC. All relevant actors agreed to work together during the process by carrying out frequent meetings and by engaging in joint trips.
The Upcoming Negotiations
Following the community mapping exercises, all relevant stakeholders decided that the time had come to finalize the terms of the Siem Reap agreements, namely by putting into effect the commitments of land return and compensation by HAGL to the communities. This includes a peaceful agreement over exactly which lands are to be returned to the communities, which lands should be compensated, as well as other options the communities may wish to exercise.
In order to prepare the communities for these upcoming meetings, EC and partner organizations have conducted a series of trainings and workshops on Cambodian and international law, the process for securing sustainable land tenure, option generation inquiries and consultations, solidarity building exercises and negotiation-skills workshops.
See Below for Key Documents, and latest news on the HAGL Rubber Case
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