26 June 2007

The human rights situation in Cambodia

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisations in Cambodia, the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) and the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) express their deep concern regarding the situation of human rights in Cambodia.

Despite the recommendations made by Mr. Yash Ghai, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General on human rights in Cambodia, in September 2006, before the UN Human Rights Council, little progress has been made. The Cambodian government has ratified 13 human rights international instruments and the Constitution of the Royal Kingdom of Cambodia has incorporated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, Cambodians are increasingly subject to a wide range of human rights abuses - often committed by State personnel.

Freedom of expression and association

Over the past months, there has been continued threats to freedom of speech and freedom of association, although those rights are guaranteed under the Cambodian Constitution and the international human rights instruments that Cambodia has ratified.

While 2005 was characterised by the arrest and detention of civil society activists, 2006 was predominantly characterised by threats and intimidation directed against human rights defenders and community leaders who were engaged in efforts to protect the rights of the poor as well as ethnic communities.

Human rights defenders continue to be the target of harassment, intimidation and other obstructions to their work. The most serious attacks - such as physical assault or arrest and imprisonment - are increasingly being directed against community activists, trade union leaders and other representatives of marginalized and vulnerable groups. Reflecting an increase in conflicts over land and other natural resources, as well as worsening labor conditions, this is a trend which is unlikely to be reversed in the near future. In 2006, LICADHO documented 71 community and labor activists who were illegally detained and/or had spurious charges brought against them.

The removal of custodial sentence for defamation under Cambodia’s criminal law on 26 May 2006 (Article 63 of the transitional criminal law - UNTAC Law) has been an important development. However, there is a high possibility of misuse by political forces-which control the law enforcement agencies, the prosecution and the courts-to fine individuals of up to 2,450 USD, an amount above the average yearly income of a Cambodian citizen. In addition, imprisonment can be used to coerce a guilty defendant to pay fines. Dam Sith, editor of the local newspaper « Moneaksekar Khmer », was condemned to a fine for disseminating false information while academic Tieng Narith was arrested on 5 September 2006 for writing strong criticism of the government in one of his books. He was condemned on 28 February 2007 to two years and a half in prison, and a fine.

On February 24, Hy Vuthy, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers in the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC) at the Suntex garment factory, was shot dead while riding his motorbike home after finishing his night shift at the Suntex factory in Phnom Penh’s Dangkao district. Hy Vuthy is the third FTUWKC official to be killed in three years. Chea Vichea, the union’s President, was shot dead in January 2004. In May 2004, Ros Sovannareth, the FTUWKC President at the Trinunggal Komara factory, was murdered. The killing of Hy Vuthy is the latest in a string of attacks and assassinations of union activists in Cambodia. During 2006 there were several violent attacks against FTUWKC officials at Suntex and the neighboring Bright Sky factory. Such a pattern of violence is extremely likely to have a chilling effect on the members and leaders of FTUWKC and other union activists throughout Cambodia.

Arbitrary denials of peaceful protests has been continuing throughout 2006, as well as violent crackdowns on peaceful demonstrations and strikes, in particular by garment workers and people protesting against eviction from their land. In 2006, LICADHO documented 39 cases of demonstrations that were violently dispersed by armed forces.

Women’s rights

FIDH, and its leagues in Cambodia, LICADHO and ADHOC, note with concern that although Cambodia is beginning to recognise the significance of violence against women, the extent of the Government’s willingness to educate the judiciary, the police and the public on these issues, and to implement laws and policies that prevent such violence and protect victims, is still quite limited. Main violations of women’s rights include rape, domestic violence, as well as trafficking and sexual exploitation due to the fact Cambodia is a source, transit and destination country for victims of human trafficking.

Human rights violations in connection with land disputes

The sharp increase in conflicts over land is one of the most disturbing trends to emerge in recent years, with far-reaching consequences for human rights in Cambodia, where an estimated three-quarters of the population depend on the land for survival. Many of the instigators of reported cases of land grabbing were soldiers, police or local government officials. Threats, intimidation and violence are often used to bring about evictions and fair compensation is all too rarely considered. Moreover, Cambodia is involved in extra judicial killings, involving mainly police officers shooting protesters during land protests.

The new National Authority for Land Dispute Resolution (NALDR) creates another level of bureaucracy that further confuses the situation, and undermines the prerogative of the Cambodian courts to definitively adjudicate land cases. In reality, Cambodia’s Land Law (and a patchwork of associated sub decrees) is often manipulated by corrupt officials or totally disregarded. The negative impact of land concessions has been well documented, most recently by the former UN Special Representative of the Secretary General for Human Rights in Cambodia, Peter Leuprecht. The Government has signed contracts handing over plots of land up to 176,000 hectares in deals that have been kept secret despite international calls for transparency. Furthermore, NGOs working on land-related issues are facing increasing threats and obstacles to their work.

Lack of Independence of the judiciary and prevailing impunity

Cambodia’s judiciary continues to be characterised by corruption, incompetence and political bias. The judiciary continues to be used as a tool of the government in political cases, and as a theatre of corruption. The Supreme Council of Magistracy and the Constitutional Council - established under the Constitution to guarantee the independence of the judiciary and the compatibility of laws with the Constitution - need to be strengthened and safeguarded against executive interference.

In addition, many of the laws used today in Cambodian courts were enacted prior to Cambodia’s accession to the major international human rights treaties and the adoption of the current Constitution in 1993. As a result, many of these laws are inconsistent with Cambodia’s international human rights obligations. The long-delayed adoption of key pieces of legislation (Criminal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure, Civil Code, Code of Civil Procedure, Organic Law on the Organization and Functioning of Courts, Law on the Status of Judges and Prosecutors, Law on Anti- Corruption), has still not progressed.

The absence of effective action to prosecute police, soldiers and government officials who commit human rights violations continues to deeply undermine any sense of justice in Cambodia and to fuel further violations. Impunity in Cambodia thrives on a symbiotic relationship between those with political and economic power and the armed forces and police.

On March 12th, 2007, a panel of three judges upheld an unjust 20 years prison sentence against two innocent men, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun for the assassination of the trade union leader Chea Vichea in January 2004. They were condemned in the absence of convincing evidence and based on confessions elicited allegedly under torture. This case illustrates a perfect example of miscarriage of justice.

Freedom of expression and association

Over the past months, there has been continued threats to freedom of speech and freedom of association, although those rights are guaranteed under the Cambodian Constitution and the international human rights instruments that Cambodia has ratified.

While 2005 was characterised by the arrest and detention of civil society activists, 2006 was predominantly characterised by threats and intimidation directed against human rights defenders and community leaders who were engaged in efforts to protect the rights of the poor as well as ethnic communities.

Human rights defenders continue to be the target of harassment, intimidation and other obstructions to their work. The most serious attacks - such as physical assault or arrest and imprisonment - are increasingly being directed against community activists, trade union leaders and other representatives of marginalized and vulnerable groups. Reflecting an increase in conflicts over land and other natural resources, as well as worsening labor conditions, this is a trend which is unlikely to be reversed in the near future. In 2006, LICADHO documented 71 community and labor activists who were illegally detained and/or had spurious charges brought against them.

The removal of custodial sentence for defamation under Cambodia’s criminal law on 26 May 2006 (Article 63 of the transitional criminal law - UNTAC Law) has been an important development. However, there is a high possibility of misuse by political forces-which control the law enforcement agencies, the prosecution and the courts-to fine individuals of up to 2,450 USD, an amount above the average yearly income of a Cambodian citizen. In addition, imprisonment can be used to coerce a guilty defendant to pay fines. Dam Sith, editor of the local newspaper « Moneaksekar Khmer », was condemned to a fine for disseminating false information while academic Tieng Narith was arrested on 5 September 2006 for writing strong criticism of the government in one of his books. He was condemned on 28 February 2007 to two years and a half in prison, and a fine.

On February 24, Hy Vuthy, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers in the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC) at the Suntex garment factory, was shot dead while riding his motorbike home after finishing his night shift at the Suntex factory in Phnom Penh’s Dangkao district. Hy Vuthy is the third FTUWKC official to be killed in three years. Chea Vichea, the union’s President, was shot dead in January 2004. In May 2004, Ros Sovannareth, the FTUWKC President at the Trinunggal Komara factory, was murdered. The killing of Hy Vuthy is the latest in a string of attacks and assassinations of union activists in Cambodia. During 2006 there were several violent attacks against FTUWKC officials at Suntex and the neighboring Bright Sky factory. Such a pattern of violence is extremely likely to have a chilling effect on the members and leaders of FTUWKC and other union activists throughout Cambodia.

Arbitrary denials of peaceful protests has been continuing throughout 2006, as well as violent crackdowns on peaceful demonstrations and strikes, in particular by garment workers and people protesting against eviction from their land. In 2006, LICADHO documented 39 cases of demonstrations that were violently dispersed by armed forces.

Women’s rights

FIDH, and its leagues in Cambodia, LICADHO and ADHOC, note with concern that although Cambodia is beginning to recognise the significance of violence against women, the extent of the Government’s willingness to educate the judiciary, the police and the public on these issues, and to implement laws and policies that prevent such violence and protect victims, is still quite limited. Main violations of women’s rights include rape, domestic violence, as well as trafficking and sexual exploitation due to the fact Cambodia is a source, transit and destination country for victims of human trafficking.

Human rights violations in connection with land disputes

The sharp increase in conflicts over land is one of the most disturbing trends to emerge in recent years, with far-reaching consequences for human rights in Cambodia, where an estimated three-quarters of the population depend on the land for survival. Many of the instigators of reported cases of land grabbing were soldiers, police or local government officials. Threats, intimidation and violence are often used to bring about evictions and fair compensation is all too rarely considered. Moreover, Cambodia is involved in extra judicial killings, involving mainly police officers shooting protesters during land protests.

The new National Authority for Land Dispute Resolution (NALDR) creates another level of bureaucracy that further confuses the situation, and undermines the prerogative of the Cambodian courts to definitively adjudicate land cases. In reality, Cambodia’s Land Law (and a patchwork of associated sub decrees) is often manipulated by corrupt officials or totally disregarded. The negative impact of land concessions has been well documented, most recently by the former UN Special Representative of the Secretary General for Human Rights in Cambodia, Peter Leuprecht. The Government has signed contracts handing over plots of land up to 176,000 hectares in deals that have been kept secret despite international calls for transparency. Furthermore, NGOs working on land-related issues are facing increasing threats and obstacles to their work.

Lack of Independence of the judiciary and prevailing impunity

Cambodia’s judiciary continues to be characterised by corruption, incompetence and political bias. The judiciary continues to be used as a tool of the government in political cases, and as a theatre of corruption. The Supreme Council of Magistracy and the Constitutional Council - established under the Constitution to guarantee the independence of the judiciary and the compatibility of laws with the Constitution - need to be strengthened and safeguarded against executive interference.

In addition, many of the laws used today in Cambodian courts were enacted prior to Cambodia’s accession to the major international human rights treaties and the adoption of the current Constitution in 1993. As a result, many of these laws are inconsistent with Cambodia’s international human rights obligations. The long-delayed adoption of key pieces of legislation (Criminal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure, Civil Code, Code of Civil Procedure, Organic Law on the Organization and Functioning of Courts, Law on the Status of Judges and Prosecutors, Law on Anti- Corruption), has still not progressed.

The absence of effective action to prosecute police, soldiers and government officials who commit human rights violations continues to deeply undermine any sense of justice in Cambodia and to fuel further violations. Impunity in Cambodia thrives on a symbiotic relationship between those with political and economic power and the armed forces and police.

On March 12th, 2007, a panel of three judges upheld an unjust 20 years prison sentence against two innocent men, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun for the assassination of the trade union leader Chea Vichea in January 2004. They were condemned in the absence of convincing evidence and based on confessions elicited allegedly under torture. This case illustrates a perfect example of miscarriage of justice.

Recommendations :

FIDH, LICADHO and ADHOC call on the Human Rights Council to

- renew the mandate of the Special Representative on Cambodia

to adopt a resolution on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, requesting the authorities to:

- Guarantee the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Constitution and the international human rights instruments applicable in Cambodia, including the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of peaceful association and assembly;

- Pass the above-mentioned key legislation in full compliance with international human rights standards and proceed in their full implementation ;
Last Update 26 June 2007

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