Cambodia: Arbitrary detention of Chhim Sithar and harassment of labour rights defenders

08/12/2022
Urgent Appeal
LICADHO

KHM 001 / 1222 / OBS 085
Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment
Cambodia
December 8, 2022

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

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed about the arbitrary detention of Ms Chhim Sithar, union leader and President of the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld casino (LRSU) as well as the judicial harassment against her and 18 other LRSU leaders and members.

On November 26, 2022, immigration police officers arrested Chhim Sithar at Phnom Penh International Airport upon her return from a 12-day trip to Australia, where she attended the International Trade Union Confederation World Conference. Ms Sithar was accused of violating her bail conditions, which the Phnom Penh Municipal Court claimed prohibited her from leaving the country. The police officers interrogated Ms Sithar for approximately two hours about her travel outside Cambodia without allowing one of her lawyers, who went to the airport when she was detained, to assist her during the interrogation or to have any contact with her.

Chhim Sithar was then transferred to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, which ordered her pre-trial detention in Correctional Centre 2 (CC2) in Phnom Penh, without informing her lawyers of the decision or granting them the legally-mandated opportunity to present a defence against the allegation of violating bail conditions. Ms Sithar was transferred to CC2, where she remains detained at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal. She has been granted access to her lawyers since her transfer to CC2. A second bail request was denied by the Municipal Court on December 5, 2022, citing that Ms Sithar had allegedly not respected prior bail conditions.

The Observatory recalls that on January 4, 2022, Chhim Sithar was violently arrested by plain-clothes police officers while she attempted to join a strike by the NagaWorld casino workers, initiated by LRSU in Phnom Penh. Ms Sithar was charged with “incitement” under Articles 494 and 495 of the Criminal Code of Cambodia and remanded in pre-trial detention to CC2. She was released on bail on March 14, 2022. Upon her release, neither Ms Sithar nor her lawyers were informed that any judicial supervision or bail conditions, such as travel restrictions, was imposed on her. Ms Sithar has travelled abroad two other times since her release on bail, without incident. If convicted, Ms Sithar faces up to two years in prison.

The Observatory further recalls that in April 2021, Naga Corp., which operates the NagaWorld casino, dismissed 1,329 employees of the casino, including many union members, allegedly due to the financial consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. Since December 2021, LRSU members have been leading almost daily strikes in Phnom Penh demanding the reinstatement of the dismissed employees. The authorities have responded to these strikes by beating, arresting, and assaulting strikers, and sexually harassing female striking workers.

In addition to Ms Sithar, many other LRSU leaders and members have faced legal reprisals in connection with their labour rights actions. Eight other LRSU leaders and members are co-defendants in the “incitement” case against Chhim Sithar. Another six union members are charged with “obstruction of enforcement measures” under Article 11 of Cambodia’s Law on Preventive Measures Against the Spread of Covid-19 and Other Severe and Dangerous Contagious Diseases – a law which has been repeatedly used to criminalise the striking workers.

In a new criminal case initiated in October 2022 against LRSU leaders and members sued by NagaWorld, at least 18 of them face charges under the following provisions of Cambodia’s Criminal Code: “breaking and entering into dwelling place” (Article 299); intentionally causing damage with aggravating circumstances” (Articles 410 and 411); and “unlawful arrest, detention and confinement” (Article 253). As of the date of publication of this Urgent Appeal, 18 LRSU leaders and members are specifically named in the indictment, as well as 100 unnamed “followers”. The 18 individually named defendants are:

1. Ms Chan Narith
2. Ms Bon Sina
3. Ms Chhoub Sophorn
4. Ms Meas Sophorn
5. Ms Seak Pahna
6. Ms Mam Sovatdin
7. Ms Sok Thavuth
8. Ms Saing Sophal
9. Ms Va Kahnawake
10. Ms Van Ryna
11. Ms Pen Rasey
12. Ms Neth Chariya
13. Ms Pao Rasmey
14. Ms Chhan Bora
15. Ms Kim Sokha
16. Ms Touch Chhim
17. Ms Sok Leakena
18. Mr Lech Choulay

The Observatory strongly condemns the arbitrary detention and judicial harassment against Chhim Sithar, which seems to be only aimed at punishing her for her peaceful and legitimate human rights activities. The Observatory urges the Cambodian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release her and to put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against her, all other union leaders and members, and all other human rights defenders in the country.

The Observatory further condemns the attacks against labour rights defenders and urges the Cambodian authorities to guarantee in all circumstances labour rights in the country, including the right to strike, as enshrined in international human rights law and particularly in Articles 6 to 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Actions requested:

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

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Chhim Sithar, all other union leaders and members, and all other human rights defenders in Cambodia;

ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Chhim Sithar, since her detention is arbitrary as it seems to be only aimed at punishing her for her peaceful and legitimate human rights activities;

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

iv. Guarantee in all circumstances labour rights in the country, including the right to strike, as enshrined in international human rights law and particularly in Articles 6 to 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Cambodia is a state party.

Addresses:

• Mr. Hun Sen, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: leewood_phu@nida.gov.kh / cppparty@gmail.com
• Mr. Sar Kheng, Minister of Interior and Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: moi@cambodia.gov.kh
• Mr. KOEUT Rith, Minister of Justice of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: moj@cambodia.gov.kh
• Mr. Prak Sokhon, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: mfaic@mfa.gov.kh / mfaicasean@mfaic.gov.kh
• Mr. Ly Chantola, President of the Cambodian Bar Association. Email: info@bakc.org.kh
• Ambassador Mr. Sokkhoeurn An, Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Email: camemb.gva@mfaic.gov.kh

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

***
Paris-Geneva, December 8, 2022

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 FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT 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 FIDH: + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18
• Tel OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39

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