Bunong Community Visa Proposal Rejected by French Embassy

On February 12, 2019, Monday morning the Bunong community conducted the press conference to disclose the statement regarding the denial of French embassy on a visa approval to the community members affected by land issues, who would participate in the preliminary hearing at the Paris court, France. At the press conference, 8 representatives of the community expressed their disappointment towards the French Embassy to Cambodia having denied issuing the visa to them to join the hearing as officially summoned by the judge of Paris court in France, in a civil action which was filed by the community with the support of a French lawyer.

They said if the French Embassy had issued a visa for all of them, today they would be in the hearing with the judge in France, with their lawyer there, not in a press conference here today in Phnom Penh.

Kroeurng Tola one of other 114 plaintiffs says “France is a human rights-centered country, so it shall take into consideration this case to allow us to face with the company and judge in the hearing for the right judgment…this is what I want.”

Before filing the complaint to the Paris court, the affected community members have protested and demanded resolution on the affected areas to our traditional and customary rights, and traditional occupation that their communities have been practicing and as recognized by the community, national and international laws. Some of their community members remain facing criminal complaints at the court.

In the lawsuit submitted to the Paris court, they claim damages and compensation from BOLLORÉ groupe in France regarding the conditions in which they lost our rights to land, tradition, custom, since the arrival of Socfin-KCD. The action was made through a lawyer in France. His name is Mr. Fiodor Rilov who has accepted our mandate to represent us in court in Paris France. They received an official invitation from the Judge to attend the preliminary hearing to be held on 12 February 2019 at 11.30am in the Tribunal of Nanterre.

On 15th January 2019, all 9 of them went to be interviewed at the French Embassy in Phnom Penh. After the interview, they got an instruction from the Embassy staff that they missed only two things: The first is the health insurance, and the second is guarantee letter on sponsorship of stay in Paris, and that is it. They were in a hurry to buy health insurance from the company (Forte) and sent to the embassy, and the lawyer in France sent on 31 January 2019 the Councilor his guarantee letter as required.

On 23 January 2019, they went to the embassy to pick up their passport and visa as appointed in the receipts after interview then the embassy staff informed them that all visa application for them were rejected.

They contacted again the embassy, but the embassy kept their decision not to issue the visa for them to travel to France to meet in person with the Judge in the hearing while the summon issued on 03 January 2019 was also attached already to their application for visa.

Kroeurng Tola read the statement at the conference “If the French Embassy has issued a visa for all of us, today we would be in the hearing with the Judge in France, with our lawyer there, not in the press conference here today in Phnom Penh, adding that we view that the rejection of our visa application decided by the French Embassy and the ongoing impossibility to attend to our hearing in France causes us an other damage after we have lost our rights to our land.”

“Our rights to legal remedies concerning issues with BOLLORE and Socfin-KCD have been seriously affected by visa rejection. We seriously regret and view that rights to justice should not be blocked through administration procedure.” continues the statement. “We hope that French Embassy in Phnom Penh enhances human rights according to Universal Declaration on Human Rights, United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and reconsider their decision on rejection of our application for a visa for next date to be set again by the judge.”

The next step for them, they will discuss with members who have taken legal action and continue their efforts with their lawyers to claim for justice for them today and next generations in conformity with law, customary rules that are recognized by Cambodia law and international laws relating to rights of indigenous peoples.

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