Meeting Scheduled Over EU Sugar Allegations

Rights workers and village representatives were scheduled to meet with the European Union today to discuss allegations that local sugar firms taking advantage of an EU free-trade scheme have illegally thrown hundreds of families off their land.

David Pred, executive director of Bridges Across Borders Cambodia, said yesterday the EU had invited several human rights groups and villagers to a meeting after they sent a joint letter to the EU earlier this week, “outlining our concerns with [the Everything But Arms scheme] about the [trade] preferences that are given to sugar producers connected to human rights violations.”

Under EBA, Cambodian firms have been allowed to export tens of thousands of tons of sugar to the EU without import duties and with a guaranteed minimum price. Rights groups have said agribusiness operator and CCP Senator Ly Yong Phat has illegally grabbed farmland belonging to hundreds of families, while receiving EU trade benefits for his sugar.

Mr Pred said the groups wanted the EU to investigate if Cambodian sugar’s EBA status should be suspended due to rights violations.

“Serious and systematic violations of human rights that are directly connected to the production of goods being exported to Europe, as is the case with Cambodian sugar, are grounds for such a suspension,” Mr Pred said.

“We are ready to provide ample evidence of the human rights abuses in connection with sugar production,” he added.

The EU has previously suspended the EBA status for products from Sri Lanka, Belarus and Burma on the grounds of human rights violations.

The EU’s charge d’affaires in Cambodia, Rafael Dochao Moreno, said Wednesday the EU had begun to investigate the allegations after receiving new information in a letter Tuesday but he declined to elaborate.

Villager An Haiya said he had been invited to join the meeting with the EU to represent 110 families in Koh Kong province’s Chi Khor Loeu commune who had lost around 1,000 hectares to Mr Yong Phat’s sugar firm. He said another local villager representing 99 affected families would also attend.

“I will talk about land eviction,” he said. “I will request the European Union to seek government intervention to downsize the land concession.”


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