Special Rapporteur presents his final call for change

Yesterday, during the 27th session of the Human Rights Council, Professor Surya P. Subedi presented his last report as the United Nations (the “UN”) Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia.

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UN Special Rapporteur Surya P. Subedi. (c) CCHR

The work of the Special Rapporteur involves independently investigating the human rights situation by visiting Cambodia biannually, and reporting to the UN Human Rights Council. At the conclusion of the twelfth reporting period, from 1 July 2013 – 24 July 2014, and after fulfilling the maximum six-year term, the Special Rapporteur has a deep understanding of the challenges facing Cambodia. The candid and honest nature of the report is unsurprising following his press conference at the conclusion of his last visit to Cambodia in June.

The report expresses that overall the human rights situation is generally heading in a positive direction. The Special Rapporteur praises the Royal Government of Cambodia (the “RGC”) for adopting some of his recommendations, and for willingly meeting with him. He further powerfully asserts that:

‘The year 2013 was the year in which the Cambodian people found their voice, and the Special Rapporteur is convinced that Cambodia has embarked on a new path from which there is no turning back.’

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Forced to Sign Away Their Rights

Over the past 10 days, two separate incidents have shown how far the situation facing human rights defenders (“HRDs”) is from meeting international human rights standards. Staff from two separate NGOs were arrested, held without charge and released only after signing “agreements,” which are little more than attempts by the government to stifle civil society and to restrict the ability of HRDs to promote and protect human rights.

On 9 September 2014, Ms. Meg Fukuzawa and Mr. Lida Sok, two employees of Equitable Cambodia, were investigating the human rights impacts of evictions that resulted from industrial sugarcane plantations in Oddar Meanchey province when police officers asked to accompany them to the police station where they were questioned for nearly 24 hours. Meg was only released after signing an agreement promising to not file a complaint over her detention. Equitable Cambodia, CCHR and other NGOs released a joint statement expressing our concerns over these arrests.

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Ending Impunity is Necessary for Democracy

Today – 15 September 2014 – is the International Day of Democracy, a day established by the UN General Assembly to encourage governments to strengthen programs aimed at promoting and consolidating democratic processes.

Yet here in Cambodia, today also marks the 1-year anniversary of the death of Mao Sok Chan, who was killed during last year’s post-election protests in Phnom Penh. But his death is the complete opposite of a celebration of democracy; instead it stands as a clear example of the way in which impunity continues to hinder the development of democracy in Cambodia.

Wanted Poster - Mao Sok Chan

Campaign poster from CCHR’s 2013 Campaign to End Impunity in Cambodia

On 15 September 2013, Mao Sok Chan was killed by a bullet fired by a security force on the Kbal Thnal bridge in Phnom Penh, which had been blocked off by the police as a demonstration calling for new elections was taking place. A year later, no transparent and independent investigation has been undertaken into the actions of the security forces on that night, despite promises by the government to investigate these events.

Instead, 3,000 riot police officers were given certification of appreciation a month after the fact to recognize their role in “controlling the escalation.”

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Hang Serei Oudom: A symbol of freedom or impunity?

Two years have passed since Hang Serei Oudom, a journalist reporting on illegal logging activities, was found brutally murdered in the trunk of his car in Ratanakiri province. Two years have passed, yet freedom of expression continues to be stifled, and a culture of impunity remains rampant within Cambodia.

One of CCHR's campaign posters from our 2013 Impunity Campaign

One of CCHR’s campaign posters from our 2013 Impunity Campaign

Hang Serei Oudom is one of the 12 journalists that have been murdered in Cambodia since 1994, and one of 619 journalists killed globally since 2004. Within Cambodia, each of these murders has been met with impunity. The failure to pursue the investigation and charge Hang Serei Oudom’s murderers, despite the seriousness of the crime, highlights the continuing power of the elite over the judicial system. Beyond this, Hang Serei Oudom’s death, along with many others, was used as a warning to others around the country, and was a direct attack on the right to freedom of expression.

Unfortunately, violence and intimidation are just one means used to undermine freedom of expression in Cambodia. This has been demonstrated by the RGC’s recent announcement of a pilot program to censor online content, which cites China and Syria as inspiration for the reform. The internet is essential for sharing knowledge and ideas, the growth of social movements, self-expression, and flagging human rights abuses. Most importantly, the internet permits democratic discussion that is restricted in other spheres. Instead, the new laws move to censor discussion and remove content that is critical of the ruling political party.

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Valuing Charity

Today marks the International Day of Charity, an event established by the United Nations in recognition of the important role that charity, and charitable acts by individuals and organizations play within societies worldwide.

Charity can take many forms. The term “charity” can refer to a type of organization”. Some non-profit organizations (“NPOs”) and non-governmental organizations (“NGOs”) are registered charities. This means that they have been recognised by the government of the country work in as operating in a particular way and undertaking a range of activities that meets that country’s definition of a charity. Generally speaking, registered charities are organizations that provide some form of support to those in need.

Not all organizations that help people are charities, and not all countries have systems that enable organizations to register as charities. CCHR is not a charity but much of its work can be considered to be charitable. Working to improve the human rights situation in Cambodia is a form of helping those in need. More specific examples are the support that we give the human rights defenders and their families when they are subject to threats, violence, and/or criminal charges as a result of their activism, through the Human Rights Defenders Project.

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A morning in the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal

This blog post is written by Lale Kuzu, former CCHR International Intern.

As a law graduate from the U.K, I have often found observing the hushed stillness of the Court of Appeal as daunting as sitting in a head teacher’s office regardless of whether you are present for discipline or reward. I was struck by that same feeling in the presence of the judges at the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal, with the judges in red robes with silk white neckties seated in grand high chairs peering down at the crowd below it.

This feeling of both fear and respect was present until the moment eleven defendants dressed in orange uniforms were escorted through the door, each waiting to be un-cuffed before being seated in the two rows in front of me. The hustle and bustle that accompanied the eleven defendants, with their friends and families in the aisle next to them, prison guards sitting with them and lawyers hovering behind them transported me to a whole new court room.

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