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Yesterday (6 November), the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and Amnesty International (AI) jointly submitted an amicus curiae legal brief to the Bangkok South Civil Court calling on the court to apply international human rights standards in a class action lawsuit filed by Cambodian farmers against the Thai sugar company Mitr Phol for alleged human rights abuses by its apparent subsidiary in Cambodia.

A road in Oddar Meanchey, in an area where homes were burned down and land was taken from villagers to make way for a planned sugar plantation. (Lay Sophanna)

Yesterday (6 November), the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and Amnesty International (AI) jointly submitted an amicus curiae legal brief to the Bangkok South Civil Court in a class-action lawsuit filed by two residents of Cambodian villages, representing at least 23 families out of a potential class of more than 700 affected families in the Oddar Meanchey Province, Cambodia, against Mitr Phol Sugar Corporation Ltd., a Thai company.

This lawsuit, based on Thai and Cambodian tort laws, alleges human rights abuses committed by Mitr Phol’s apparent subsidiary in Cambodia, Angkor Sugar Co. Ltd.

In 2008, Angkor Sugar Co. Ltd. was granted an economic land concession to operate an industrial sugar plant in Oddar Meanchey Province. The complaint alleges that after the concession was granted, Angkor Sugar Co. Ltd. colluded with local authorities to forcibly seize land held by individuals from local communities, resulting in the destruction of their houses, the burning of villages and crops, and physical harm to some villagers.

This marks the first-ever class-action lawsuit filed in Thai courts by plaintiffs from another country for abuses committed by a Thai company outside of Thailand.

Today, the Court held a session to examine the list of evidence submitted by both parties. The next appointment date will be on 27 March 2024 for the examination of evidence, after which the court will set the witness examination date.

The ICJ/AI amicus brief sets out the principal applicable international human rights law and standards, and comparative jurisprudence for the Thai court to consider in resolving this case. The organizations submit that the human rights responsibilities of a parent company, such as Mitr Phol, extend beyond its own conduct to include the activities of subordinate entities. To this end, Mitr Phol has a duty to exercise due diligence in monitoring and controlling their subsidiaries in Cambodia, whose conduct they may influence. Failure to carry out this due diligence should result in liability as a consequence of the actions of their subsidiaries.

The brief also highlights that under international standards, business enterprises have a responsibility to respect all internationally recognized human rights wherever they operate, such as the right to adequate housing.

The Thai court itself also has a duty that extends beyond the national borders of Thailand to ensure access to justice, effective remedy, and reparation for individuals from communities living in proximity to the operations of Thai companies and their subsidiaries in other countries when their rights are violated.

The need to apply international human rights standards is recognized by the government of Thailand, as evidenced in the adoption of its National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, and is also recognized by Mitr Phol through the company’s Code of Conduct.

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Victims of corporate human rights abuses face multiple barriers in holding companies to account and securing access to justice.

Although this case is the first of its kind in Thai courts, in recent years, other cases involving human rights abuses committed by Thai state-owned enterprises abroad were brought to Thai courts by Thai citizens, but they ended with limited success. These cases included an unsuccessful lawsuit brought by Thai villagers against Thai governmental agencies regarding the construction of the Xayaburi Dam in Lao PDR and its transboundary environmental destruction affecting communities in Thailand.

The limitations identified encompass the legal nature of corporations, evidentiary challenges, conflict of laws, and statutes of limitation.

Despite calls from CSOs to initially address the weak implementation of the first NAP, Thailand’s Second National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights (2023-2027) was endorsed by the Thai Cabinet on 25 July 2023.

The NAP identifies ‘cross-border investment and multinational enterprises’ as one of the four key priority issues in the NAP. The Second NAP includes an action point that requests the Ministry of Justice to “study and recommend amendments to the laws or propose measures to ensure access to justice and effective civil, criminal and administrative remedies for local and overseas communities within the areas where companies or Thai state-owned enterprises operate and are affected by such operations.”

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