Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Ethnic group ‘disappointed’ to be denied French visas to attend court




Ethnic group ‘disappointed’ to be denied French visas to attend court

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A Bunong ethnic community from Mondulkiri hold a press conference on Tuesday over their land dispute with a French firm. Heng Chivoan

Ethnic group ‘disappointed’ to be denied French visas to attend court

Eleven people at the centre of a case involving seven indigenous Bunong villages in Mondulkiri province pursuing legal action in France have expressed disappointment after the French embassy in Phnom Penh denied their visa applications to attend court.

A press release said the 11 included a lawyer, a translator and nine representatives of the indigenous group, totaling 114 people.

The group, from Pech Chreada district’s Bou Sra commune – who have said they are under threat of losing their land, traditions and customs since the arrival of French development company Socfin-KCD – applied for visas in response to a court summons in France regarding their lawsuit.

The group took legal action against Bollore, a firm that funded Socfin-KCD, last year.

The communities filed a civil action lawsuit to claim damages and demand compensation from Socfin-KCD, which received loans from Bollore, which has operated a rubber plantation in Mondulkiri province since 2008.

They claim the existence of the plantation affected the ethnic group’s homes, land and sacred locations.

The Bunong indigenous communities sued the company in a French court after they had lost hope of obtaining justice in Cambodia, Bou Sra community representative Kroeung Tola said at a press conference in Phnom Penh on Tuesday.

In January, a French court issued a summons inviting the nine members of the indigenous community behind the lawsuit to appear at the court hearing in Nanterre, a suburb of Paris, on Tuesday at 11:30am.

The hearing was postponed once before in December, after the plaintiffs could not obtain visas to attend court to defend themselves.

Tola said the French embassy denied the visa applications.

Human rights in ‘high regard’

The ethnic group allegedly lost the right to their land as Socfin-KCD cleared it to set up its rubber plantation, which destroyed everything they owned.

“I hope the French Embassy in Phnom Penh holds human rights in high regard, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, and reconsider their decision to reject our visa applications for the next date set by the [French] judge,” he said.

Mathilde Teruya, a political and press counsellor at the French embassy, said in an email on Tuesday that the visa applications submitted did not comply with EU Schengen regulations. “Their presence at the tribunal wasn’t compulsory at this stage of the trial,” Teruya said.

According to a press release from the group, after the community’s lawyer sued Bollore, a company representative claimed it did not know the community or who had taken legal measures against it.

A Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) report issued last year said more than 800 families were affected by Socfin-KCD, with most of them Bunong.

At least 640 families were involved in the land dispute after the private company received an economic land concession covering 2,386ha on a 70-year lease for rubber plantation and agricultural products.

Mondulkiri provincial authorities claimed the land dispute had been resolved. However, the villagers said they were locked in lawsuits.

“Before opting for an international court, I tried to go through all the authorities, starting from the village and commune levels all the way to the provincial court."

“Our issues were not taken care of. The courts kept withholding the case . . . not taking action. However, when a completely nameless company representative filed a lawsuit against us, authorities did not drop the case."

“We’ve lost hope. We’ll no longer depend on the Cambodian court system as it cannot offer us justice. So I opted for the international system,” Tola said.

Mondulkiri provincial court spokesperson Meas Bros told The Post on Tuesday that it was the group’s right to say whatever they wanted, but the provincial court proceeded as per procedure after obtaining a complaint from the indigenous group.

The court investigated as normal and has no comment on the villagers seeking intervention at an international court, Bros added.

“The [land] dispute occurred a long time ago. We cannot review their complaint right after they submitted it. The judge is currently investigating the case, but some of their leaders keep wanting to come to court,” he said.

MOST VIEWED

  • All inbound flights set to face added scrutiny

    Ministry of Health spokesperson Or Vandine said on Monday that the ministry is monitoring all inbound flights, after it was announced that only those from Malaysia and Indonesia will be temporarily cancelled from August 1. Vandine said on Monday that the two countries were identified as

  • Flights from Indonesia, Malaysia cancelled

    A Ministry of Health official has warned of the possibility of Covid-19 spreading through community transmission after the total infected cases in the Kingdom rose to 225. Ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine told reporters on Saturday that the possibility of community transmission cannot be overlooked and that

  • Man in quarantine dies of ‘overdose’

    The Ministry of Health on Thursday said a Cambodian migrant worker who died while being isolated at a quarantine centre in Tbong Khmum province’s Kroch Chhmar district may have died from syncope or overdose of tablets. In a statement, the ministry said the 21-year-old

  • Ministry set to reopen 20 schools in August

    The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport will allow 20 high-safety-standards schools to reopen next month despite new cases of Covid-19 in the country. Ministry spokesperson Ros Soveacha wrote in a Telegram message on Wednesday that the schools are in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Battambang.