Threats of arrest against union leaders and labour rights activists - KHM 001 / 0910 / OBS 110

20/09/2010
Urgent Appeal

The Observatory has been informed that a number of union leaders and labour rights activists are at risk of judicial harassment and under the threat of arrest warrants for organising a strike to demand the increase of the minimum wage for workers in the garment sector. The individuals at risk include Mr. Ath Thorn, President of the Cambodian labour Confederation (CLC), Ms. Morn Nhim, President of the Cambodian National Confederation (CNC) and Mr. Tola Moeun, Head of the Labour Rights Programme at the Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC), as well as other labour activists.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme 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.

According to the information received, on September 15 2010, the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, & Youth Rehabilitation issued an urgent letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen seeking his support in filing law suits against union leaders including Mr. Ath Thorn, Ms. Morn Nhim and Mr. Tola Moeun, accused by the ministries of ‘inciting’ workers to strike. The letter also appealed to the police authorities to intervene and cancel the strike, detain union leaders and gather evidences that could be used in court against them. The Prime Minister responded positively on the same day.

The strike, which began on September 13 and was due to last until September 18, was announced by the organisers more than two months ago to the relevant authorities. The Observatory notes that the strike was peaceful and consistent with the Cambodian Constitution, the Labour Law and ILO Conventions 87 and 98, to which Cambodia is a State Party. Unfortunately, the strike was met with acts of harassment, intimidation and, in some cases, physical assault by the police and employers.

On September 16, 2010, the garment unions announced a temporary suspension of the strike following an invitation of the Ministry of Social affairs, Veterans, and Youth Rehabilitation to the CLC and the CNC to a negotiation meeting on September 27, 2010. However, the Observatory fears that the threat of legal action and arrest remain.

The Observatory expresses its deep concern about the ongoing intimidation, taking place in a climate of threats of arrest and prosecution against union leaders and labour activists. These acts, aim at restricting their freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, are not conducive to an enabling environment in which the unions can engage in a genuine negotiation with the government and employers without fear of consequences. The Observatory therefore calls upon the Cambodian authorities to immediately cease and refrain from all acts of intimidation and threat or use of legal actions against union leaders and labour activists for their lawful actions in defence of the rights of workers in Cambodia.

Actions requested:

Please write to the Cambodian authorities and ask them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Ath Thorn, Ms. Morn Nhim and Mr. Tola Moeun as well as all other union leaders and labour activists;

ii. Put an end to acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against them as well as against all human rights defenders in Cambodia;

iii. 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, and in particular :
- Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to promote the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”,
- Article 5(a), which provides that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels, to meet or assemble peacefully”,
- Article 6(c) which states that “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters.
- and Article 12.2 which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;

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

Addresses:

- Mr. Hun Sen, Prime Minister, Office of the Prime Minister, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: +855 23 36 06 66 / 855 23 88 06 24 (c/o Council of Ministers), Email: leewood_phu@nida.gov.kh
- Mr. Sar Kheng, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, Ministry of Interior, 275 Norodom Blvd, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: + 855 23 212708. Email: moi@interior.gov.kh
- Mr. Hor Nam Hong, Minister of Foreign Affairs, 161 Preah Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: + 855 23 21 61 44 / + 855 23 21 69 39. Email: mfaicasean@bigpond.com.kh
- Ambassador Mr. Sun Suon, Permanent Mission of Cambodia to the United Nations in Geneva, Chemin de Taverney 3, Case postale 213, 1218 Grand-Saconnex, Switzerland, Fax: + 41 22 788 77 74. Email: cambodge@bluewin.ch

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

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