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FILE - A boy holds a banner reading "Please stop grabbing our land" at a rally by evection victims in front of the National Assembly in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sept. 1, 2014. VOA

Sept 17, 2016: Crimes associated with environmental destruction- the illegal exploitation of natural resources and unlawful dispossession of land will now be the focus of the International Criminal Court, as announced on September 15, 2016.

The United Nations-backed court, which sits in The Hague, has mostly ruled on cases of genocide and war crimes since it was set up in 2002. It now pronounced during a move, widely hailed by land right activists, environmental demolition, and land grabs will lead the governments and individuals being prosecuted for crimes against humanity.

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The court, which is funded by governments and is regarded as the court of last resort, said it would now take into consideration crimes that have been traditionally under prosecuted.

Land grabbing has become increasingly common worldwide, with national and local governments allocating private companies tens of millions of hectares of land in the past 10 years.

The anti-corruption campaigners from Global Witness say this has led to many forced evictions, the cultural genocide of indigenous peoples, malnutrition, and environmental destruction.

“This shift means it can start holding corporate executives to account for large-scale land grabbing and massive displacement happening during peacetime,” Alice Harrison of Global Witness told Reuters.

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The move comes ahead of a decision by ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda on whether to investigate a case filed by human rights lawyers in 2014 accusing Cambodian officials and businessmen of engaging in illegal land dispossession.

The firm representing the Cambodian plaintiffs said the ICC’s policy shift opens the door for the case to be investigated by the court.

Cambodia’s government has dismissed the case as politically motivated and based on “fake numbers of people being affected by land grabbing.”

Last year was the deadliest on record for land rights campaigners, with more than three people killed each week in conflicts over territory with mining companies, loggers, hydroelectric dams or agribusiness firms, Global Witness said.

-Prepared By Enakshi Roy Chowdhury of Newsgram with inputs from various agencies. Twitter: @enakshirc58


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