Year in Review: The Human Rights Situation in Cambodia in 2015

In 2015, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (“CCHR”) witnessed deterioration in the human rights situation in the country, with the vast gap between the theory and the implementation of human rights law growing even wider. The past year has seen a number of human rights abuses perpetrated against citizens; from land rights violations and attacks on Internet freedoms, to crackdowns on protestors and the political opposition. Throughout the year, the Royal Government of Cambodia (“RGC”) increasingly restricted fundamental freedoms, failing to follow Cambodian constitutional obligations and domestically enforceable international human rights standards. This post provides a brief snapshot of just a few of the major human rights issues observed in 2015.

Threats to freedoms of association, assembly and expression

 stop and consult image

The year was marked by a number of restrictions to fundamental freedoms and attempts to stifle dissenting voices. After years of debate and heavy criticism from both national and international observers, the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations (“LANGO”) was finally enacted in August, representing one of the biggest threats to freedoms of association and expression in Cambodia in recent years. Despite calls from civil society organizations (“CSOs”) to amend the law, the LANGO contains troubling provisions with regard to the imposition of mandatory registration, onerous registration requirements, reporting obligations, and broad and vague grounds for denial of registration and deregistration. CCHR has already received worrying reports from around the country whereby the law has been used to restrict the activities of CSOs. For example, in August, a group of 71 families in Khsoeum commune, Kratie province, were informed by local authorities to cease all protest activities to protect their land until they had registered under the LANGO.[1]

It is clear that throughout the year, the RGC increasingly attempted to restrict the activities of CSOs and criminalize those who dared to challenge them. For example, the environmental CSO Mother Nature was heavily targeted by the RGC in 2015; its co-founder – activist Alex Gonzalez-Davidson – was deported in February, and a number of its members arrested. Three youth members of the organization arrested in August after engaging in peaceful protests against controversial sand dredging activities in Koh Kong remain in detention.

Aside from the LANGO, a number of other laws were passed this year that also restrict fundamental freedoms, including the passage of the election laws[2] in March, following a highly rushed and opaque process; and more recently the Telecommunications Law in November.

The use of social media in Cambodia continued to be a popular tool for news broadcasting and political discussion, despite outright attacks on Internet freedoms and digital rights by the RGC this year. Attacks on Internet freedoms include the arrest of university student Kong Raya and the conviction of Senator Hong Sok Hour in August, both cases relating to Facebook posts, and the more recent arrest warrant issued for the opposition leader’s Facebook manager in early December. This month, Prime Minister Hun Sen ominously warned social media users that he is watching them, threatening “you should not use bad words to insult me, because I can get you if I want to.”

Although the RGC announced at the end of 2014 that the draft Cybercrime Law had been shelved, a second draft was leaked this year, demonstrating that its passage is very much still on the minds of legislators. Although the latest draft appears to have had the most contentious article removed (for now), the broad scope of this law leaves it open to serious abuse. Given that the RGC has already been targeting Internet users and cracking down on the right to freedom of expression before the law has even been passed, the ramifications of the law being adopted are extremely troubling.

While the RGC had vowed to pass the Trade Union Law by the end of 2015, encouragingly the law – which threatens the right to freedom of association – remains under discussion, and the RGC and the opposition have met with trade union leaders to discuss their concerns. What remains to be seen is whether this will have any effect on the final legislation.

The end of the “culture of dialogue”

The year saw the collapse of the so-called “culture of dialogue” between the CPP and the CNRP. The end of the short-lived political truce was followed by politically motivated arrests and charges against opposition members, evidencing that the judiciary remains firmly under the influence of the ruling party as ever. From the 11 CNRP activists jailed in July (despite no evidence being presented in their trial), to the conviction in August of Senator Hong Sok Hour, the CPP’s political influence over the police and judiciary is glaringly apparent. Moreover, the savage beating of two opposition lawmakers outside the National Assembly in October is widely reported to have been orchestrated by the ruling party.

Notably, history seemed to repeat itself this year, with Sam Rainy going into voluntary exile once again, following the issue of an arrest warrant in November in connection with a defamation case dating back to 2008. Several more questionable charges have been brought against him since, and he now faces a number of years in prison. Diverging from history however, is the vow made by Prime Minister Hun Sen that there will be no pardon for Rainsy this time around.

Ongoing land disputes

One of the most obvious forms of human rights violations that continued to plague Cambodia this year was the ongoing violation of land rights. 2015 saw a continuation of pre-existing land disputes, and the beginning of a number of new conflicts. Insecurity of land tenure continued to be a pressing issue felt by a majority of Cambodians, due to land grabs and forced evictions, often associated with land concessions, infrastructure projects and powerful tycoons. Moreover, while a number of land rights activists were released earlier in the year, land rights activists continue to be harassed and intimidated at the hands of the authorities.

2015 was meant to finally see the resolution of the ongoing Borei Keila saga, whereby former Borei Keila residents had long been waiting for a resolution since their violent eviction in January 2012. However the disappointing decision announced by Phnom Penh City Hall on 13 November saw the majority of remaining families denied on-site housing as initially promised by Phanimex Company, and was met with outrage by the affected residents. Now four years since their eviction, the remaining affected residents of Borei Keila continue to seek adequate redress.

Positive developments: LGBT rights, social and economic rights

While undeniably the human rights situation in 2015 looks bleak in Cambodia, in some areas however there were promising signs of improvement. As mentioned in a blog post earlier this year, the RGC appeared relatively open to legislation protecting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, who often encounter discrimination in Cambodian society. However, as CCHR’s recently released report on the welfare of LGBT individuals points out, there is still a cultural lack of understanding in relation to the LGBT community, thus there is a long way to go before attitudes can be changed, even if the law is adapted to protect LGBT people.

It is also true that there has been some progress in the arena of economic and social rights: a healthy GDP growth in Cambodia in recent years, increased access to mobile and Internet technology, and emergence of a middle class have all contributed to an increased standard of living. Yet much of the economic prosperity generated is concentrated in Phnom Penh. In rural areas a few well-connected businessmen, senators and international corporations collect the huge profits earned through land concessions. Ultimately in 2015, basic healthcare, electricity and even clean drinking water remained a concern for many Cambodians.

Where to in 2016?

As 2016 arrives and the local and national elections draw closer, we can expect further shrinking democracy, with increased pressure from the RGC on dissenting voices both politically, and under the LANGO and other broadly drafted laws. Statements made by senior military leaders outlining their loyalty to the ruling CPP, along with warnings of “civil war”, by Prime Minister Hun Sen should he lose power, add the very real threat of physical violence to the already oppressive and hostile political atmosphere.

However, despite the RGC’s attempts to restrict fundamental freedoms, as citizens become increasingly aware of their rights, they continue to exercise them and advocate for them. Thus, there remains hope that through community advocacy efforts, the work of CSOs, and international pressure, the New Year will signal a new dawn in Cambodia, in which human rights are respected.

[1] See CCHR’s open letter to the Ministry of Interior, dated 21 August 2015

[2] The Law on the Organization and Function of the National Election Committee and the Law on Election of Members of the National Assembly

Impunity: Calling for Justice

Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once remarked: “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” These words resonate sharply when one considers impunity in Cambodia.

For more than a decade, many citizens in Cambodia have become victims of extrajudicial killings, including journalists and human rights defenders. In many cases, full investigations have never taken place and therefore the perpetrators not brought to justice; some of the cases have even been forgotten about.

Perhaps one of the most notable examples of impunity in Cambodia is the Mao Sok Chan case. During a clash with security forces in a demonstration at Monivong Bridge against the result of the national election in 2013, Mao Sok Chan, a motorbike courier, was fatally shot in the head during the chaos. The perpetrator remains at large, and the motive unanswered.

Photo of Mao Sok Chan's family during the photo exhibition of impunity on 2 November 2015 organized by Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, Photo: On Sovannak

Photo of Mao Sok Chan’s family during the photo exhibition of impunity on 2 November 2015 organized by Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, Photo: On Sovannak

While right groups and the victim’s family continue to push for the case to be investigated and not forgotten, the Cambodian government has taken no action to bring the perpetrator to justice.  In September this year, the spokesperson of the Ministry of interior announced that “Mao Sok Chan’s case should now be buried,” before further opining that “the disruptive protests challenging election results had caused the conditions leading to his death.”

Despite years passing after the incident, the wound still lingers, and the grief has not diminished whilst justice remains elusive.

In response to the Mao Sok Chan case, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights recently launched a campaign entitled “Never Forget”, with the purpose of reminding both the government and public not to forget the many victims of impunity or their families, who are calling for justice.

The Mao Sok Chan case vividly reminds us that overcoming impunity is perhaps the single most important undertaking facing Cambodia today. If there is to be any chance of overcoming impunity, a strong commitment from the government is crucial.

As a member of United Nations and a signatory to many international human rights instruments, Cambodia has an obligation to respect fundamental human rights.  If Cambodia wants to become a responsible global citizen then the government must ensure the immediate review and investigation of all outstanding cases of extrajudicial killings and other serious human rights violations, and bring those responsible to justice.

By having those who committed crimes identified and punished, Cambodia can better understand its own past, and finally ensure a future where human rights flourish and impunity ceases to exist.

On Sovnnak, former CCHR National intern

2015 – A New Dawn For LGBT Rights?

Recent developments have stoked optimism that 2015 could be the year that heralds a promising new era for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (“LGBT”) rights in Cambodia.

As a whole, the status of LGBT rights in Cambodia is in a somewhat confused state; whilst there are no explicit laws that directly discriminate on the basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (“SOGI”), equally no legislation exists that provides for equality. Furthermore, the absence of legislation is compounded by societal forces which are often unaccommodating to a person’s SOGI, frequently resulting in discrimination.

Globally, a number of significant events in 2015 highlight the worldwide advancement in the recognition of LGBT rights. Particularly noteworthy was the decision in June of the US Supreme Court that the refusal to grant marriage certificates to same-sex couples was unconstitutional, thereby conferring legality nationwide on same-sex marriage.  Furthermore, the following month Italy incurred the wrath of the European Court of Human Rights, the court ruling the country’s prohibition on recognizing civil unions or same-sex marriages constitutes a violation of human rights.  Meanwhile, 2015 also saw the decriminalization of homosexuality in Mozambique, making it one of the few African countries where same-sex relationships are legal.

Perhaps the most significant development was the passage of Nepal’s new constitution, which enshrines into law the recognition of genders other than male and female, and bans discrimination by state and judicial authorities against those from “sexual and gender minorities.”  In doing so, Nepal became the first ever country in Asia to adopt equal rights for LGBT people into its constitution.

It is hoped that events in Nepal can prove a catalyst for change in Cambodia. Indeed, even before the adoption of Nepal’s constitution, there were tangible signs indicating the Cambodian Government may be slowly becoming more receptive to LGBT rights.  In particular, the 2007 update of the Civil Code which removed the explicit ban on same-sex marriage and adoption can be seen as an example of this changing dynamic.

In response to Nepal’s news, a government spokesman affirmed that same-sex couples were free to marry in Cambodia. When challenged by civil society organizations and businesses, including CCHR, to introduce specific legislation pertaining to LGBT people, the government responded by stating that the LGBT community should continue to petition for such a law if they want to achieve its realization.

It is hoped that in response to such pressure from civil society, the Cambodian government will seize upon the opportunity to become a beacon for the furtherance of LGBT rights in Asia and at the same time boost the country’s international image and economic interests. Maybe, just maybe, 2015 will prove to be the turning point………

James Leach,  CCHR International Intern

Internet Freedom in Cambodia

CCHR - Computer and Handcuffs

Over the last month, there has been a litany of stories breaking that highlight the potential pitfalls for Cambodian citizens in their use of the internet.

Many Cambodians use the internet not only to keep in touch with friends, but also to keep up-to-date with news and participate in public affairs. Facebook is particularly popular.

However, successive stories have broken recently where a person’s online activity has got them into hot water with the authorities. Perhaps most notably is the case of a senator from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (“SRP”) who was arrested for treason for posting on Facebook what was supposedly a treaty relating to the Cambodia-Vietnam border, a hot topic in current political debate. The senator’s arrest was purportedly made at the personal request of the Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen. Furthermore, as a result of the furore, three CNRP members thought to be linked to the Facebook post have now fled Cambodia with a view to being granted asylum in the West.

Perhaps more worrying is the story of Kong Raya, a 25 year-old student of political science at a Phnom Penh university, who was arrested last month for incitement as a result of posting a message on Facebook calling for a color revolution “to change the regime for Khmer society”.

Ominously, these stories coincide with what are thought to be ongoing efforts by the government to implement a Cybercrime Law, which observers and analysts fear will be used by the authorities to stamp out online criticism. Furthermore, it has been reported that the government intends to establish a new department tasked with monitoring and clamping down on “online crimes” in the name of, amongst other things, national security. Although as of yet no details have emerged as to what type of activity constitutes an online crime, it is feared by human rights activists that the department would strangle online activity deemed critical of the government and further curb freedom of expression.

Concerns about the government’s proposals center on what type of online activity will be deemed criminal and therefore prompt action from the authorities. It is feared that innocuous comments viewed as critical to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) will be classified as a threat to national security and attract heavy criminal sanctions for the author. This way, the government can further silence opposition voices. This is of particular concern since most of the media in Cambodia is controlled by the CPP and to date the internet has provided one of the few forums by which opposition voices can be heard.

There are also concerns regarding the transparency of the government’s intentions. Indeed, the proposed Cybercrime Law has been in the making for a number of years now, yet only a leaked draft has emerged. It is feared that the law will be passed with little, if any, consultation with civil society.

It may be acceptable under certain circumstances for the authorities to take action to curb online activity and restrict freedom of expression. Indeed, many governments around the world do so as a preventative measure against terrorism. However, such interference should only be permitted in exceptional circumstances which are clearly defined by the law, and when restrictions are necessary and proportionate. To do so otherwise could violate Cambodia’s international human rights obligations and lead to an attack on the fundamental right to freedom of expression, further strangling a right scarcely enjoyed by Cambodians.

James Leach, CCHR International Intern

A Morning at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

On Wednesday 29 August 2015, I had the chance to be part of a CCHR delegation, welcomed by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (“ECCC”) for an educational exchange. Our delegation attended part of a hearing before the Trial Chamber and met with representatives from various sections of the ECCC. It was a valuable opportunity for me to learn more about the mission of the ECCC, its working methods, and the practical difficulties faced when delivering justice.

The ECCC, commonly referred to as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, was created in 2006 following negotiations between the Royal Government of Cambodia and the United Nations. Its goal is to try perpetrators of crimes committed between 1975 and 1979 during the Khmer Rouge regime of Democratic Kampuchea. This hybrid tribunal – hybrid because it is a mix between international criminal law and Cambodian law – is competent to prosecute senior leaders of the Democratic Kampuchea regime and those who are most responsible for having committed serious crimes over this period. The ECCC prosecutes and tries persons charged under both international criminal law (genocide; crimes against humanity; grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions; destruction of cultural property; and crimes against internationally protected persons) and domestic law (homicide; torture; and religious persecution).

We started the visit by attending a hearing in case 002/02, which is currently on trial. Case 002 was split in September 2011 into two separate trials. At the end of the first trial (case 002/01), Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea were found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life imprisonment on 7 August 2014. They both appealed the conviction issued by the Trial Chamber.

During the hearing, the Trial Chamber heard the testimony of a witness recalling the alleged events that happened at the Trapeang Thma Dam worksite in Banteay Meanchey Province. The witness was questioned by the Defence over working conditions at the site in 1977 and allegations of forced marriages.

Our delegation then met with members of the Public Affairs Unit, the Office of the Co-Investigating Judges, the Office of the Co-Prosecutors and the Lead Co-Lawyers (Civil Parties) section. This exchange provided me with an opportunity to learn more about the nature of proceedings before the ECCC. Discussions were focused on the procedural specificities governing the judicial process with a particular emphasis on the investigative stage and the fundamental role of victims in the ECCC’s proceedings. Speakers also discussed the practical difficulties faced when investigating and prosecuting the alleged crimes. Entanglements between different systems of law, political interference, and the fact that the crimes happened almost 40 years ago are all challenges that are faced by the ECCC.

As an intern involved in the CCHR’s Judicial Reform Project, I particularly benefited from the expertise of the speakers regarding fair trial rights and due process of law. In carrying out its mission, the ECCC seeks to act as a positive influence on the Cambodian judicial system, where adherence to fair trial standards is often lacking. Through training provided to national judges, Cambodian lawyers, and other relevant stakeholders, the ECCC aims to build a lasting legacy in domestic Cambodian legal and judicial practice.

While concerns regarding the lack of judicial independence and the weak separation of powers remain widespread in Cambodia, I hope that those initiatives will help the country to move forward on a path to an independent and impartial Judiciary.

More details about the Khmer Rouge Tribunal are available on the ECCC’s website.

Julien GUIET, CCHR International Intern

Cambodia Commemorates Khim Sambo’s Death

(cc) CCHR

(cc) CCHR – Forum on Independent and Professional Media in Cambodia, 30 April 2015

Last Saturday, Cambodia commemorated the seven year anniversary of the killing of Khim Sambo and his 21-year-old son Khat Sarinpheata. They were both shot on 11 July 2008 by two unidentified men near the Olympic stadium in Phnom Penh, after they had finished exercising. Khim Sambo died on the scene while his son succumbed to his injuries the following day at the hospital.

Khim Sambo, 47, was an opposition journalist who had been working since 1997 for the Moneakseka Khmer, a Khmer newspaper aligned with the opposition leader Sam Rainsy. He had frequently wrote about allegations of corruption among the members of the government and was heavily critical towards Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

The killing happened less than two weeks before Cambodia’s National Assembly election and after Khim Sambo criticized high ranking officials in the ruling party; the timing of his murder suggested possible political motives. A month before Khim Sambo’s murder, the Moneakseka Khmer’s editor and candidate to the national election for the then opposition Sam Rainsy Party, Dam Sith, had been arrested after the newspaper raised concerns over the role of the minister of foreign affairs during the Democratic Kampuchea.

Unfortunately, Khim Sambo’s case is not isolated. Such killings have increased over the past years. Since 1994, at least 13 journalists have been killed. A large majority of the killings has remained unpunished. For example, to date, no one has been held accountable for Khim Sambo’s killing, despite national and international civil society organizations repeatedly called for the establishment of an independent commission of enquiry. In the same vein, following the 2012 killing of Serei Oudom, a journalist reporting for Virakchun Khmer Daily, judicial authorities reportedly refused to carry out thorough investigations. Speaking in the Phnom Penh Post, Shawn Crispin, Senior Southeast Asia Representative of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalist, commented that “Cambodia has an impunity problem, one that has intensified in recent years with the unresolved killing of political and environmental journalists”.

Allegations of restrictions over the media are nothing new. Whilst already weakened, independent journalists in the country continue to be subject to censorship, threats, arrests and murders. Intimidations by powerful actors also remain widespread, preventing journalists from carrying out their pivotal role in strengthening democracy and public debate. This is particularly true concerning those who are not affiliated to the government or the ruling party, which owns and controls most of the media.

In addition, the use of the state apparatus to intimidate, coerce and silence journalists remain widespread. The Cambodian legislative corpus is largely used by politicians in legal cases against journalists or media representatives. For instance, they are often charged through vaguely worded provisions such as articles 305 and 306 of the Criminal Code relating to defamation; 307 and 308 of the Criminal Code relating to public insult.

Similarly, media’s freedom of expression is undermined by provisions contained in the Press Law 1995 which criminalize contents that may affect “national security and political stability” (article 12), “the good customs of society” (article 14), or that “humiliates or contents national institutions” (article 13). Such formulations result in a large scope of the incrimination offering to the authorities the possibility to intimidate and prosecute dissident voices while exercising their fundamental freedom of expression.

Pursuant to its international legal obligations, the Royal Government of Cambodia shall take genuine steps to uphold media freedom, so allowing journalists to safely work and express views thoroughly, freely and independently. Unfortunately, last year, following its second Universal Periodic Review, the Royal Government of Cambodia rejected four recommendations including one aiming at strengthening media’s freedom and independence. The said recommendation required Cambodia to abrogate legal provisions contained in the Penal Code and in the Press law relating to defamation and publication of false information. Most recently, the Human Rights Committee also encouraged Cambodia to decriminalize defamation and to bring other provisions impacting the freedom of expression into line with international standards.

Outside the anniversary of Khim Sambo’s killing, CCHR wish to express its solidarity with journalists who despite being threaten in their everyday life continue to report independent news in Cambodia so enabling citizens to make informed choices and participate in public life.

Julien Guiet, CCHR International Intern

NGOs Urge the Government to Stop and Consult on NGO Law

stop and consult image

Civil society organizations (“CSOs”) across Cambodia and beyond are urging the government to stop rushing to adopt a secret new draft Law on Associations and Non Governmental Organizations (“LANGO”), which threatens to seriously undermine fundamental rights in the country, and hold public consultations.

The last draft of the law was seen in 2011, lying dormant until May when Prime Minister Hun Sen declared that it would be passed that month. Refusing to release the new draft, speculation as to its content and potential impact has been growing steadily. On 5 June 2015 the Council of Ministers approved the new text, and a leaked version has been widely distributed. Speaking in the Phnom Penh Post, Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch said if passed in its current form the law would be “an unmitigated disaster for civil society.”

The Law

The draft makes no distinction between community based organizations and other kinds of association, and in theory could be interpreted broadly to apply to any type of community group or meeting. All NGOs and associations will be subject to mandatory registration requirements and will be prohibited from engaging in any activities if not registered. These restrictive provisions lead to several questions as to exactly how the registration process will work, and in theory would give the authorities broad powers to restrict the legitimate activities of a wide range of organizations.

The draft also increases the burden of reporting requirements, requiring that NGOs provide the government with copies of all of their reports, proposals and financial agreements submitted to donors. Such documents may contain sensitive information that should remain private. For example, details about human rights defenders who might fear retaliation from the authorities as a result of their legitimate activism.

CCHR has joined a solidarity effort of local and international CSOs urging the government to “Stop and Consult” on the LANGO and other laws that could have a negative impact on human rights. Chak Sopheap, CCHR’s Executive Director also joined other Cambodian CSO representatives on an advocacy trip to Washington DC, meeting officials from congress, the White House and Department of State, to promote a more open legislative process in Cambodia to compliment local advocacy efforts with different development partners and UN agencies.

As former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, stated in 2012 “A dynamic and autonomous civil society able to operate freely, is one of the fundamental checks and balances necessary for building a healthy society, and one of the key bridges between governments and their people.” However, Cambodia is not the only place where the government seems to be intent on going against this advice.

NGO laws in other countries

In Russia, NGOs who receive foreign funding or engage in “political” activity are forced to register as “foreign agents,” equating CSOs with “spies” or “traitors,” an atmosphere that has encouraged a wave of intrusive inspections and led to a number of NGOs being shut down. Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet Socialist Republic, is reportedly in the process of introducing similar legislation.

In an ongoing struggle with Greenpeace India, the Indian government froze the organization’s bank accounts in April 2014 amid accusations that its environmental campaigns were hurting India’s economy, and on 6 June 2015, a foreign staff member was prevented form entering the country even though he had a valid .

In addition to examples of restrictive NGO laws, there are others that help facilitate the work of civil society. In countries such as Belgium, France and the United Kingdom, registration is not mandatory but is usual for organizations that wish to become legal entities. The laws in these countries then give detailed definitions and guidelines for registration, dissolution and suspension. Details such as these are lacking in Cambodia’s LANGO.

During his visit to Cambodia on 2 June 2015, United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Scott Busby, spoke to Foreign Affairs Minister, Hor Namhong, to propose the reconsideration of the LANGO, even questioning whether such a law was necessary given the existence of laws that already address issues such as terrorism and criminal activity. This opinion is shared by Human Rights Watch, which has called for the law to be withdrawn.

Time for Action

Cambodian and international organizations are working together to try and steer Cambodia on a positive path, and ensure that civil society will not be silenced. We are advocating for a more transparent, open and inclusive process for this legislation and others, and are again calling for the release of the official draft. To follow the campaign and be part of the conversation, follow Stop and Consult on Facebook or Twitter and watch out for out for more information from CCHR and other CSOs in the coming days.

Dani Esquivel, CCHR International Intern

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.

New Year brings welcome release of activists, but judicial reform still essential

Khmer New Year is traditionally a time to reflect on the year that was, and look forward to what the future will bring. This year’s festivities began on a positive note, with the release of imprisoned land rights activists and opposition party members. However, while certainly cause for celebration, the significance of the move should not be over-stated: the releases are reportedly the result of political bargaining between the CNRP and ruling Cambodian People’s Party, following months of negotiations related to the reform of the National Election Committee. Without meaningful reform to strengthen judicial independence, politically motivated cases against critical voices and unfair trials are likely to continue.

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Support for same-sex marriage continues to rise

2015 is shaping up to be a potential watershed year for same-sex marriage reform around the world. In March the Slovenian Parliament passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage by a comfortable 51 votes to 28, making it the seventeenth country in the world to legalize the practice nation-wide; a first in a former communist country.[1]

Perhaps even more surprising is the current move to legalize same-sex marriage in the Republic of Ireland. In May this traditionally conservative, majority Catholic country will hold a referendum on adding a clause to their constitution stating that: “marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex,” thus making the restriction of marriage to heterosexual couples unconstitutional.

This is truly remarkable considering that homosexuality was a criminal offence in Ireland less than a quarter of a century ago, and civil partnerships have only been available to same-sex couples since 1 January 2011. Current polls estimate support for the yes campaign is at 74%. If the referendum is successful Ireland will become the first country in the world to adopt same-sex marriage by public vote.

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