Asia's largest sugar producer, Mitr Phol, is responsible for violating the rights of hundreds of villagers in Oddar Meanchey who saw their land grabbed, homes destroyed and livestock killed to make way for plantations, according to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT).
The Thai company, one of three major suppliers to Coca-Cola, withdrew from its three economic land concessions, covering nearly 20,000 hectares in Samroang and Chongkal districts earlier this year, amidst complaints of human rights abuses and alleged irregularities.
Yesterday at Meta House in Phnom Penh, NHRCT commissioner Nirun Phitakwatchara launched the results of the body’s investigation into the dispute.
The report, prompted by a complaint by local NGOs in 2013, concluded the company was directly liable for the actions of its Cambodian subsidiaries – Angkor Sugar, Cane and Sugar Valley, and Tonle Sugar Cane, which were awarded the concessions in 2008.
“The violations involved the dismantling and the burning of several hundred houses in five villages which utilised land sized around 6,000 hectares,” Phitakwatchara said.
According to Phitakwatchara, Mitr Phol has acknowledged human rights abuses occurred and has commissioned a Swiss-based consultancy firm to analyse whether, and how much, compensation should be paid.
The company – expected to finish its damages assessment by the end of the year – could not be reached yesterday.
Though the company has pulled out, Eang Vuthy from Equitable Cambodia said almost 470 families were still fighting to regain 5 hectares of land each and compensation for their losses.
Vuthy said the government had so far awarded just 14 families one hectare of uncleared land each, and many were struggling to eke out a living as labourers.
He said soldiers that had moved into the area after Mitr Phol left had been pushed out, but local authorities refused to let villagers return.
Yesterday, Oddar Meanchey Provincial Hall spokesman Vath Paranin claimed the land dispute had been solved.
He said any further decisions rested with the Ministry of Agriculture, whose spokesman, Lor Raksmey, yesterday declined to comment.
At yesterday’s press conference, widow and mother of eight Houy Mai, of Kaun Kriel commune’s Bos village, broke down in tears as she described her family’s hardships.
“Our standard of living is getting worse,” she said.
“We do not have land to do farming and some villagers have become beggars, workers, migrants to Thailand and Malaysia. We are so worried”.
The NHRCT report, which is not legally binding, recommended that the company pay damages.
It also suggested Thai authorities establish a mechanism to monitor Thai investments abroad.