By Andrew Gilmour
In February, hundreds of Filipino participants in the peace process, environmental activists and human rights defenders were labeled “terrorists” by their own government. The security of the individuals on this list is at stake, and some have fled the Philippines.
The UN independent expert on the rights of indigenous peoples – Victoria Tauli-Corpuz – was on this list. This followed the vilification only months before of another UN independent expert – Agnès Callamard – who deals with extra-judicial executions. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared that he wanted to slap her, and later announced that he would like to throw other UN human rights officials to the crocodiles. The national commission on human rights in the Philippines was threatened with a zero budget and its former chair, Senator Leila de Lima, is in detention for her advocacy.
Even if extreme, such sweeping threats against hundreds of civil society representatives, defenders of human rights, and UN experts labeled “terrorists” in the Philippines are symptomatic of worrying regional trends.
If governments in the region can target high profile human rights defenders and those associated with the UN with impunity, what is the message to others at community level who are not afforded the same visibility? This is likely to increase fear in those seeking the protection of the UN and other human rights actors.
Global Unions, International Human Rights and Workers’ Rights Organizations Call for End to Politically Motivated Prosecution of Tola Moeun
We, the undersigned global unions and international human rights and workers’ rights organizations, call for the charges against Cambodian human rights defender Moeun Tola to be immediately dropped.
As reported on January 18, 2018, in the Phnom Penh Post, prosecutors in Cambodia have sought criminal charges and an order for pre-trial detention against Tola and two other prominent civil society leaders, Pa Nguon Teang, an advocate for press freedom, and Venerable But Buntenh, an activist monk. Tola is the Executive Director of the Center for the Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL), and is a renowned supporter of labor rights in Cambodia.
On January 18, the Phnom Penh Court deputy prosecutor issued a preliminary charge for “breach of trust” against the three men, who were all members of the funeral committee for murdered activist Kem Ley. The deputy prosecutor also recommended that they be placed in pre-trial detention. None of the men were in the country at the time of the announcement; they risk imprisonment for an indefinite period if they return. If convicted, they face imprisonment for up to three years.
It is well known that Cambodia’s courts are not independent, but rather are driven by the political interests of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. These charges constitute an attempt to silence and punish one of the country’s leading independent voices for worker rights. As detailed in the Phnom Penh Post, the pretext for the changes is a criminal complaint filed against Tola by Pich Sros, the leader of the obscure Cambodia Youth Party. Last year, Pich Sros filed the first complaint against the country’s main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, and its leader Kem Sokha, which led to Sokha’s jailing and the party’s dissolution by the courts.
The charges issued against Tola concern an unsubstantiated claim that he and the two other activists misappropriated funds raised for the funeral of Kem Ley, a well-known government critic who was assassinated in July 2016. Human Rights Watch has termed the charges “politically motivated legal harassment” and an example of the government targeting civil society activists. Moreover, multiple members of Kem Ley’s own family have repeatedly stated that there is no basis for the allegations, and that Tola and the other two accused leaders never handled any of the funeral funds. Further, the complainant politician, Pich Sros, neither took part in the funeral nor has any connections to Kem Ley’s family.
This case is emblematic of broader deterioration in the labor rights and human rights climate in Cambodia, where the government has closed down a number of independent media outlets, shut down the National Democratic Institute (NDI), dissolved the Cambodia National Rescue Party and arrested its leader on “treason” charges, and engaged in politically motivated prosecutions against a number of human rights defenders and unionists.
We, the undersigned organizations, are strongly calling upon the Cambodian government to respect fundamental human rights and to immediately drop the charges against Tola and his two co-defendants.
We stand in solidarity with 35 Cambodian human rights organizations expressing similar concerns and call for action.
Building and Wood Worker’s International
The Cambodian Australian Federation (Australia)
International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations
Public Services International
International Domestic Workers Federation
Human Rights Watch
Clean Clothes Campaign
International Labor Rights Forum (USA)
Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (USA)
Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (Bangladesh)
Asia Floor Wage Alliance (India)
United Students Against Sweatshops (USA)
Maquila Solidarity Network (Canada)
National Economic and Social Rights Initiative
National Guestworker Alliance (USA)
Globalization Monitor (Hong Kong)
Human Rights Now (Japan)
Jobs With Justice (USA)
Coalition of Immokalee Workers (USA)
People & Planet (UK)
China Labour Bulletin (Hong Kong)
Labour Education and Service Network (Hong Kong)
Industrial Workers of the World - North Americal regional Admin. (USA)
Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (Hong Kong)
Korean House for International Solidarity (Korea)
Labour Action China (Hong Kong)
Bangladesh Nari Progati Sangh (Bangladesh)
Sedane Labour Resource Centre (LIPS) (Indonesia)
Tenaganita Women’s Force (Malaysia)
Action Labour Rights (Myanmar)
Labour Education Foundation (Pakistan)
Schone Kleren Campagne (Belgium N.)
MAP Foundation (Thailand)
Trade Union Rights Centre (Indonesia)
Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Pakistan)
T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights (USA)
Future in Our Hands/Framtiden i våre hender (Norway)
ACV-CSC Meta (Belgium)
Clean Clothes Campaign Austria (Austria)
Christlige Initiative Romeo (Germany)
Yokohama Action Research (Japan)
Weltladen/Fair Trade Shops (Austria)
World Solidarity (Belgium)
NaZemi (Czech Republic)
Labour Behind the Label (United Kingdom)
Youth Labour Union 95 (Taiwan)
Informationsgruppe Lateinamerika AT (Austria)
No Chains (Hong Kong)
Katolische Frauenbewegung AT (Austria)
Collectif Ethique sur L’Etiquette (representing 18 French organizations) (France)
Brücke – Le pont (Switzerland)
ALTRAPO LAB (Spain)
BBTK - SETCa (Belgium)
Clean Clothes Campaign Austria (Austria)
Public Eye (Switzerland)
Solidar Suisse (Switzerland)
Pro Ethical Trade Finland/Eettisen Kanpan Poulesta (Finland)
Centro Nuovo Modello di Sviluppo (Italy)
Fair Action (Sweden)
Solidarity of Trade Union (Myanmar)
Schone Kleren Kampangne (Netherlands)
The International Corporate Accountability Roundtable
Australian Council of Trade Unions (Australia)
Australia Asia Worker Links (Australia)
NFTU (Sri Lanka)
National Free Trade Union (Sri Lanka)
FAIR/Campagna Abiti Puliti (Italy)
Women’s Solidarity (Austria)
Temiz Giysi Kampanyasi (Turkey)
North South Initiative (Malaysia)
The Gender Alliance for Development Centre (Albania)
Asian Transnational Corporations Monitoring Network
Defend Jobs Philippines (Philippines)
Samahan ng Manggagawang Kaagapay sa Pag unlad (Philippines)
Worker Empowerment (Hong Kong)
Published on HRW on March 13, 2018
Global Unions, International Human Rights and Workers’ Rights Organizations Call for End to Politically Motivated Prosecution of Tola Moeun
Four global unions and more than 30 national and international human rights and worker rights NGOs from around the world have joined together to call for an end to the politically motivated prosecution of Cambodian human rights defender Tola Moeun.
As reported on January 18, 2018, in the Phnom Penh Post, prosecutors in Cambodia have sought criminal charges and an order for pre-trial detention against Tola and two other prominent civil society leaders, Pa Nguon Teang, an advocate for press freedom, and Venerable But Buntenh, an activist monk. Tola is the Executive Director of the Center for the Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL), and is a renowned supporter of labor rights in Cambodia. These charges, as detailed in the letter, are baseless and appear to be politically motivated.
It is well known that Cambodia’s courts are not independent, but rather are driven by the political interests of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. These charges constitute an attempt to silence and punish one of the country’s leading independent voices for worker rights.
These 35 organizations strongly call upon the Cambodian government to respect fundamental human rights and to immediately drop the charges against Tola and his two co-defendants. They echo a call from 35 Cambodian human rights organizations expressing similar concerns and calling for action.
"If Cambodian authorities want the country to be attractive to responsible brands, they should abandon this course of targeting labor leaders and other civil society members, and drop all false criminal cases," said Aruna Kashyap, senior counsel in the women's rights division of Human Rights Watch. "Brands and international governments should demand to see such trumped up criminal cases dropped as an important sign of good faith engagement by Cambodian authorities to protect and promote labor rights in the country."
See the FULL LETTER for more information
Published on the Clean Clothes Campaign on February 19, 2018
Cambodia’s government is using its courts to silence human rights defenders and political activists, Amnesty International says today in a new report.
Using its tight grip on the criminal justice system, the Cambodian government has brought a series of trumped-up charges against members of the political opposition, trade union activists, human rights activists, and political commentators, in an attempt to harass, intimidate and punish them.
“In Cambodia, the courts are tools in the hands of the government. Much lip-service is paid to the judiciary’s independence, but the evidence reveals a cynical manipulation of the criminal justice system to serve political goals and silence people whose views the government refuses to tolerate,” said
“Far from letting justice take its course on the basis of law, our research shows how procedural rules are bent to serve a set purpose, delivering pre-determined outcomes at the behest of the government. It is essential that peaceful activists have all charges against them dropped and are immediately released.”
There are currently 27 human rights defenders and political activists behind bars while hundreds of others are subject to criminal proceedings as part of a concerted attempt by the government to crush any public criticism in the country, however peaceful.
The new briefing, Courts of Injustice, details how Cambodia’s opaque criminal justice system has been manipulated by the government to detain people on groundless charges before subjecting them to unfair trials.
The ADHOC five
One of the most prominent cases of persecution in 2016 involved the prolonged arbitrary detention of human rights defenders from ADHOC, the country’s oldest human rights organisation. Five current and former members of ADHOC staff were arbitrarily and unjustifiably charged with bribery over an alleged sex scandal. They have since spent over a year in pre-trial detention.
Kem Sokha, then Deputy President of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) who was allegedly involved in the scandal, and other members of his party, were also hit with a series of trumped up criminal charges.
The case of Tep Vanny
Another case highlighted in the briefing is that of Tep Vanny, Cambodia’s most high-profile activist who has been arrested at least five times since the last general election.
Currently behind bars for the third time as a prisoner of conscience, Tep Vanny is a housing rights activist who has spent a decade defending her community in central Phnom Penh, where thousands of families have been evicted from their homes.
Along with her fellow activists, many of them women, she has been targeted by the authorities on politically motivated charges, harassed, beaten, arrested and imprisoned. She is currently serving a 2½ year sentence.
Tep Vanny features in Amnesty International’s human rights defenders’ global campaign.
Leaving people in limbo
One of the ways in which people are ensnared by Cambodia’s criminal justice system is to let criminal cases against them languish, leaving them open without carrying out a preliminary investigation and prosecuting.
The effect of this is to leave the accused in a precarious state of uncertainty. Once a criminal complaint has been filed, the authorities can use it as a pretext to control the accused’s behaviour for years. At any moment, even years later, the case can be revived, without any effort being made to investigate or prosecute the matter in the intervening period.
At times, criminal investigations against human rights activists have remained open for an inordinate amount of time, leaving them in legal limbo for many years.
Many of the cases examined by Amnesty International reveal that decisions on how cases should proceed are often made not on the basis of an investigation’s progress, but to coincide with political events, such as demonstrations, elections or negotiations with the opposition.
Bending the law to their will, the authorities often fail to adequately inform people accused of offences of the proceedings against them. In other cases, investigations and prosecutions only take place ahead of looming political events or public demonstrations, preventing key activists from taking part.
“Prosecutions do not appear to be driven by a desire to see justice done for past crimes, instead justice is travestied so that human rights defenders and political activists cannot exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” said Champa Patel.
Unfair trials and convictions
In cases where activists are brought to trial for peacefully exercising their rights, convictions almost automatically follow. Amnesty International knows of no case where a human rights defender or a political activist has been acquitted.
Only after international pressure has been brought to bear have the authorities released activists on suspended sentences.
“Cambodia desperately needs a justice system worthy of the name. As the government faces greater pressure from critics and opponents, it is likely to use the courts against more activists. Only a truly independent judiciary that holds the government to its international human rights obligations rather than acting on its whims can prevent further such injustices,” said Champa Patel.
Published on AI on May 30, 2017.
Cambodia: Continued arbitrary detention of Messrs. Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, Nay Vanda, Ny Chakrya, and Ms. Lim Mony
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Cambodia.
The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the continued arbitrary detention of Messrs. Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, Nay Vanda, and Ms. Lim Mony, all staff members of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), as well as of Mr. Ny Chakrya, former Head of ADHOC Human Rights and Monitoring Section and now Deputy Secretary-General of the National Election Committee (NEC).
According to the information received, on March 13, 2017, the Supreme Court upheld the November 28, 2016 decision of the Court of Appeal to extend the pre-trial detention of the four ADHOC staff members for a further six months (See background information).
On February 27, 2017, Messrs. Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, Nay Vanda, Ny Chakrya, and Ms. Lim Mony were summoned before the Supreme Court, following the appeal they filed against the decision to extend their detention order. However, due to the bailiff's failure to send the summons for their transportation to court to the three prison facilities where the five are detained, none of them were brought to the Supreme Court for their hearing. As a result, the hearing was postponed. Moreover, the Supreme Court decided to sever the appeals of the five defenders. The hearing of the four ADHOC staff members was postponed to March 6, 2017, while the hearing of Ny Chakrya is now scheduled for March 24, 2017, at 8am. On March 6, the Supreme Court announced it would deliver its verdict on March 13 in the hearing of the four ADHOC staff members.
As of March 14, 2017, the five human rights defenders have spent 320 days in pre-trial detention.
The Observatory strongly condemns the ongoing arbitrary detention of Messrs. Ny Chakrya, Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, Nay Vanda, and Ms. Lim Mony, which only aims at sanctioning their legitimate human rights activities, and calls upon the Cambodian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release the five human rights defenders, in accordance with the Opinion adopted by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD).
The Observatory also calls upon the Cambodian authorities to put an end to any act of harassment against all human rights defenders in Cambodia.
This update was published on OMCT's website on March 15, 2017.
Cambodia: Land rights activist Tep Vanny sentenced to 2.5 years in prison over charges related to 2013 protest
Tep Vanny is one of Cambodia's most prominent land rights activists who has led numerous protests against the eviction of thousands of residents of Boeung Kak Lake in Phnom Penh.
The International Commission of Jurists has described the verdict as "part of an escalating and systematic strategy to legally harass human rights defenders and political opponents into silence."
Cambodian authorities should immediately drop the politically motivated criminal investigation of human rights defenders Am Sam-at and Chan Puthisak, Amnesty International, Civil Rights Defenders, Human Rights Watch, and the International Commission of Jurists said today.
Cambodian officials have accused Sam-at, a respected human rights monitor at the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) for nearly 20 years, and Puthisak, a land rights activist from Boeung Kak Lake and former prisoner of conscience, of instigating violence at an October 10, 2016 demonstration. Para-police forces, who are regularly used to suppress demonstrations, violently dispersed what had been a peaceful protest in Phnom Penh. When Puthisak attempted to prevent para-police from confiscating a drum that was being used by a demonstrator, four or five para-police attacked him, repeatedly beating him on the head with their fists, according to a video of the incident. When Sam-at tried to stop the assault, the para-police attacked him, also beating him on the head. Both men sustained injuries that needed medical attention.
“The investigation of Sam-at and Puthisak by the Cambodian authorities is a typically absurd and undisguised case of judicial harassment,” said Champa Patel, Southeast Asia and Pacific director at Amnesty International. “As usual, unnecessary and excessive use of force by the para-police goes unpunished, and those who work to promote and protect human rights find themselves subject to criminal proceedings.”
On November 4, two members of the para-police filed a complaint with the Phnom Penh Court of First Instance, alleging that they were injured during the dispersal of the demonstration. The authorities are investigating Sam-at and Puthisak for instigating intentional violence, under articles 27 and 217 of Cambodia’s Criminal Code, which carry penalties of up to three years in prison. Both men are due for questioning on February 8, by Phnom Penh Court of First Instance Deputy Prosecutor Ngin Pich. There has been no indication that complaints filed against para-police by Sam-at and Puthisak after the incident on October 10, 2016 are being investigated.
The October 10 demonstration involved approximately 150 participants peacefully calling for respect for housing and land rights in Freedom Park, an area designated for demonstrations. The protesters were marching on a street adjacent to the park when the incident took place. Videos of the incident establish that the demonstration was peaceful and that Sam-at was wearing a blue human rights monitor vest when the para-police attacked him.
The case investigation of the two falls within a wider pattern of judicial intimidation in Cambodia. There are currently as many as 26 human rights and political activists in prison on charges which have all the hallmarks of being politically motivated. This includes 14 political activists who were jailed following a demonstration in July 2014, when para-police violently clashed with participants. No efforts have been reported on the authorities’ efforts to bring to justice the para-police responsible for the unlawful use of force.
“The case against Sam-at and Puthisak is part of an extensive effort by the Cambodian authorities to discredit the legitimate work of human rights organizations and to make clear the threat of prison for everyone working to promote and protect rights in the country,” said Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director at Human Rights Watch. “This campaign of intimidation against rights advocates has to stop now.”
Para-police, often referred to as “district security guards,” are auxiliary security forces that are regularly used to violently suppress demonstrations in Cambodia. No single legal document sets out the rules governing their functions and powers. Rather, their legal basis and the rules governing their activities are set out in a confusing combination of government statements and policies, and by instructions from the Ministry of Interior. They work in tandem with police, under the authority of district governors.
“The Cambodian government should be commending people like Sam-at and Puthisak for their work to promote and protect human rights rather than trying to intimidate them,” said Kingsley Abbott, senior international legal advisor at the International Commission of Jurists. “The case should be immediately and formally closed and a genuine investigation initiated into wrongful use of force by the para-police.”
This article was published on HRW's website on February 7, 2017.