Cambodia: Arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Cambodian Confederation of Unions’s President Mr. Rong Chhun

06/08/2020
Urgent Appeal

KHM 001 / 0820 / OBS 089
Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment
Cambodia
August 6, 2020

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Cambodia.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the arbitrary detention and judicial harassment against Mr. Rong Chhun, a prominent workers’ rights defender, President of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions (CCU), and member of the Cambodian Watchdog Council (CWC)[1].

According to the information received, on the night of July 31, 2020, Mr. Rong Chhun was arbitrarily arrested at his home in Phnom Penh by police officers. On August 1, 2020, Mr. Chhun was charged with “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest” (Article 495 of the Cambodian Criminal Code) by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and was subsequently transferred to pre-trial detention in the overcrowded Correction Centre 1 (CC1), in Phnom Penh. If convicted, Mr. Chhun could face a sentence of two years of imprisonment.

The arrest of Mr. Chhun followed a written statement issued by the Cambodia Border Affairs Committee on July 31, 2020 claiming that Mr. Chhun had issued a false and exaggerated statement on July 21, 2020 intended to stir social unrest and public misunderstanding[2]. On that day, Mr Chhun, following a trip to Tboung Khmum Province near the border between Cambodia and Vietnam on July 20, published on his personal social media account a statement on behalf of the CWC in which he reported alleged community land loss in the border area.

Furthermore, in an interview with Radio Free Asia ( RFA) on July 31, Mr. Chhun addressed the statement issued by the government and further discussed the concerns of villagers and farmers affected by the alleged land loss. Mr. Chhun was arrested shortly after the radio interview.

The Observatory recalls that this is not the first time Mr. Chhun has been subjected to arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment by Cambodian authorities. In December 2018, six workers’ rights defenders, including Mr. Chhun, were convicted, sentenced to a suspended prison sentence, and fined 35 million riel (US$8,700) each for their alleged role in the 2013 and 2014 Phnom Penh protests calling for higher minimum wage for informal workers[3]. In 2005, Mr. Chhun spent three months in prison on charges of “defamation” and “inciting others to commit a crime” for a public statement he made on the border agreement between Vietnam and Cambodia[4].

The Observatory strongly condemns the arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment of Mr. Chhun, which seem to be only aimed at punishing him for his legitimate human rights activities, and reiterates its deepest concern about the fact that freedom of expression of independent union leaders and human rights defenders in Cambodia has been increasingly repressed by the government since the run-up to the 2018 general election[5].

The Observatory urges the Cambodian authorities to guarantee the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Mr. Chhun and to immediately and unconditionally release him from the overcrowded CC1 prison in order to protect his health in the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as all human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in Cambodia, as recommended by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet[6].

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Cambodia to urge them to:

i. To guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Mr. Rong Chhun and all other human rights defenders in Cambodia;

ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Rong Chhun, since his detention is arbitrary as it seems to be merely aimed at punishing him for his human rights activities;

iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Mr. Rong Chhun and all other workers’ rights defenders and human rights defenders, in Cambodia, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;

iv. Conform in any circumstances with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, in particular its Articles 1, 6 and 12.2;

v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights instruments ratified by Cambodia.

Addresses:

· Mr. Hun Sen, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Fax: +855 23 360666 / 855 23 880624 (c/o Council of Ministers), Email: leewood_phu@nida.gov.kh / cppparty@gmail.com
· Mr. Sar Kheng, Minister of Interior and Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Fax: +855 23 212708, Email: moi@cambodia.gov.kh
· Mr. Ang Vong Vathna, Minister of Justice of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Fax: +855 23 364119, Email: moj@cambodia.gov.kh
· Mr. Prak Sokhon, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Fax: +855 23 216 144 / +855 23 216141, Email: mfaic@mfa.gov.kh / mfaicasean@mfaic.gov.kh
· Mr. Keo Remy, President of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee. Fax: +855 12 813781 / +855 23 211162 / +855 23 881045 (c/o Council of Ministers)
· Mr. Suon Visal, President of the Cambodian Bar Association. Fax: +855 23 864076, Email: info@bakc.org.kh
· Ambassador Mr. Ney Samol, Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Fax: +41 22 788 77 74, Email: camemb.gva@mfa.gov.kh

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Cambodia in your respective countries.

***

Geneva-Paris, August 6, 2020

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
· E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
· Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 79 539 41 06 / + 41 22 809 49 29
· Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80

___

[1] The CWC is a coalition of several non-governmental organisations and unions, including the Independent Teachers Association, the Independent Government Workers Association, the Student Movement for Democracy, the Independent Farmers Association and the Free Trade Union of Workers of Kingdom of Cambodia, advocating for human rights and monitoring government activities.
[2] See “Statement by the Joint Committee on Border Affairs announces the complete rejection of the statement by Rong Chhun, Representative of the Cambodian Monitoring Council, which issued a false and exaggerated statement on 20 July, 2020”: https://pressocm.gov.kh/archives/66755
[3] See The Observatory report ‘Down but not out. Repression of human rights defenders in Cambodia’, published on July 9, 2020.
[4] See OMCT Urgent Appeal Case KHM 201005.1, published on January 20, 2006.
[5] See The Observatory report ‘Down but not out. Repression of human rights defenders in Cambodia’, published on July 9, 2020.
[6] See https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25745&LangID=E

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