Proud Kingdom Celebrates Diversity

(cc) CCHR 18 May 2015

(cc) CCHR 18 May 2015

This year’s Gay Pride festival hit the Kingdom of Cambodia on 11 May and has proved to be the biggest and best yet. The event has been growing in scope and popularity since it became an annual event in Cambodia in 2009. This year, with events ranging from film screenings, dance parties and a tuk tuk and cyclo race, there really was something for everyone, regardless of whether they were straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (“LGBT”).

Cambodia’s Gay Pride Week was timed to coincide with the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (“IDAHOT”), on 17 May. The day commemorates the date in 1990 when the World Health Organization officially declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder.

IDAHOT is celebrated in over 180 countries, including several where homosexuality is illegal. This year to mark the occasion, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Office released a video on supporting LGBT rights, which it projected on a building in New York’s famous Times Square two days ahead of the global celebrations.

In Cambodia the theme of Gay Pride 2015 was ‘LGBT Youth’ and many of those involved were students and young activists. Cambodia is in many ways a country of the younger generation; over half of the population is under 25 years old. Thus the theme for IDAHOT 2015 was highly appropriate in Cambodia, focusing on the potential for young people to affect real change.

Throughout history LGBT voices have been silenced either by repression or stigma. In Cambodia, traditional social pressure from friends and family to conform can still be very strong. IDAHOT and the broader Gay Pride festival give us all a chance to discuss issues frankly and openly, to hopefully bring about real change in the lives of LGBT people.

As overseas, the business community in Cambodia also had a strong presence in celebrations this year, driving activities under the inspiring ‘I Am What I Am’ slogan. Bars and resorts hosted events and parties celebrating the diversity of the LGBT community.

Awareness of the complex social and political issues facing the LGBT community is constantly expanding, and to reflect that there was a change to the title this year. The term ‘biphobia’, meaning discrimination against a person for being bisexual, was added to the title to raise awareness about the particular struggles facing bisexual people.

Bisexuality is often misunderstood as a form of confusion or indecision about sexual orientation, which has lead many people to keep their bisexual identity to themselves. Even within the LGBT community, bisexuals are often sidelined or excluded, making this year’s IDAHOT a particularly important occasion to recognize the variety of sexual orientations and gender identities that exist.

In addition to fun and festivity, there was also a serious public awareness and health focus to Gay Pride this year. The Cambodian Center for Human Rights’ (“CCHR”) Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (“SOGI”) Project joined other LGBT organizations in organizing a full program of events, including free and confidential finger-prick HIV testing, a street parade, and a number of workshops held on topics ranging from accessing legal support to addressing bullying against LGBT students in schools.

Nuon Sidara, CCHR’s SOGI Project Coordinator stated that “It is great that this year all sectors in Cambodia joined to celebrate Gay Pride and IDAHOT. Many people took part in events, had fun, and raised key issues for consideration by policy makers as they develop plans to protect LGBT rights. Strong support from the European Union, Swedish and British Embassies, the UN and Civil Society has been most welcome, and sets a positive tone for the future.”

As previously blogged, 2015 looks to be a big year for same-sex marriage legalization around the world. As this year’s Gay Pride celebrations draw to a close around Cambodia, all that is left is to look forward to next year’s celebration in the hope that the LGBT community will have even more milestones to celebrate by then.

Losing the Spirit of the Paris Peace Agreement

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Today marks the 23rd anniversary of the signing of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements (the “Agreements”), which were signed 12 years after the Khmer Rouge regime had fallen, and in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War. Through the establishment of the United Nation Transitional Authority in Cambodia (“UNTAC”) and the adoption of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia (the “Constitution”), the Agreements sought to establish peace, “free and fair elections” and a liberal democratic system based on pluralism.

Despite major improvements in social legislation and political representation in Cambodia since 1991, 23 years later the Royal Government of Cambodia (the “RGC”) seems to have largely forgotten the spirit of the Agreements. Article 3 of the Agreements stipulated, “Cambodia undertakes to ensure respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

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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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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.

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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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Welcome to the new Sithi Blog!

Welcome to the new Sithi Blog!

What is the Sithi Blog?

The Sithi Blog is a new project of the Sithi Portal, an award-winning web portal which collates information related to human rights in Cambodia. The Sithi Portal is maintained by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), a leading non-aligned, independent, non-governmental organization that works to promote and protect democracy and respect for human rights – primarily civil and political rights – in Cambodia.

The Sithi Blog will be used to share information about human rights in Cambodia – new reports and publications, events of note, awareness-raising and advocacy campaigns, and more – and to create a space and forum where both Cambodians and others interested in Cambodia can discuss topics related to human rights in the country. While the Sithi Portal will continue to host the technical and in-depth research reports, laws, and other materials that it always has, the purpose of the Sithi Blog is to make these materials more accessible to a wider audience and to open up additional spaces for discussion.

Want to contribute?

One of the key features of the Sithi Blog is that we want to get YOU involved! We are looking for people who are interested in writing guest posts related to human rights, either on a regular basis or just one time. Please get in touch with us through the Get Involved! page if that sounds like something you would like to do!

In addition to contributing posts, we encourage people to comment on the posts and to share them on social media. You can also suggest topics for blog entries; for example, if your organization has a new report coming out and you would like us to feature it, please let us know!

If you have any questions about the Sithi Blog, please don’t hesitate to contact us through the Contact page.