Cambodian criminal justice system ignores children’s rights

Yesterday, CCHR released a Briefing Note that addresses the situation of Children in the Cambodian criminal justice systemOf the total of 2,258 monitored trials by CCHR’s Trial Monitoring Project between August 2009 and June 2012, 219 involved juveniles. Children require rights that offer them special care and protection, including when they are accused of infringing the law, as their needs differ to those of adults. They are therefore entitled to protections beyond those that adults are entitled to. However, the findings of the Briefing Note suggest that juvenile justice rights are largely ignored within Cambodia’s judicial system.

Juvenile detentionFor example, judges can impose a criminal penalty on juveniles as young as 14, despite the age of criminal responsibility being 18 in Cambodia. Criminal penalties are imposed on up to 50% of children charged with a felony, and they are therefore given the same criminal responsibility as an adult, meaning that their rights as a child are disregarded.

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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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Banks, Human Rights and the Equator Principles

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In January 2014 the press in Cambodia and Australia released a number of articles concerning the role of the ANZ Royal Bank in financing the activities of the Phnom Penh Sugar Company (“PPS”), which owns and operates a highly controversial sugar plantation and refinery in Kampong Speu Province, Cambodia. In February 2010, PPS began illegally seizing and bulldozing farm and residential land belonging to more than 1,500 families in the Thpong and Oral districts in the Kampong Spue province. An estimated 100 families in Pis and Plourch villages were forcibly evicted from their homes. As a result the families are faced with food insecurity, job insecurity and homelessness and many had to pull their children out from school to work for PPS as it was the only source of income available. The Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. (“ANZ”) is a major controlling entity of ANZ Royal Bank and one of the signatories to the Equator Principles (“EPs). Many consider that ANZ acted contrary to the guidelines contained in the EPs thereby facilitating the human rights abuses committed by PPS.

Put simply the EPs are a set of guidelines developed by major financial institutions (over 80 major financial institutions in 34 countries) in 2003 and revised in June 2013 (EP III) which aim to assist them in making better lending decisions in regards to the environment and society. The aim of the EPs is to put checks and balances in place so that financiers can refuse to finance projects, which could negatively impact human rights and the environment.

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Raise your glass: refugee rights eroded as Australia and Cambodia sign deal

Last Friday, Cambodian Minister of Interior Sar Kheng and Australian Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison clinked champagne glasses upon signing the Memorandum of Understanding (the “MoU”) that confirmed the agreement to transfer refugees under Australia’s care to Cambodia. Naturally, there is reason to celebrate: Australia can offload its humanitarian duty and further entrench its policy of deterrence. Cambodia will pocket $35 million in aid over the next four years, money that will arguably end up in the hands of a corrupt few. As the pair congratulated themselves, the rights of refugees embodied in international law took yet another hit.

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To refugees on Nauru, the deal doesn’t conjure sentiments of celebration. Over the weekend they were presented with a video message from Morrison outlining a stark decision: ‘voluntarily’ resettle in Cambodia, or remain on Nauru for a further five years. Either way, it was yet again confirmed that they would never resettle in Australia. For many of the refugees, their pasts have been marked by trauma, and this was the final straw. Five individuals, including four minors, have sown their lips closed in protest, and two others have attempted suicide. They will be passed from a dire situation in Australian detention, which has been deemed harmful by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”), to a dire situation in Cambodia.

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Biography of Mrs. Hang Chenda, Land Activist in Preah Sihanouk Province

Hang Chenda: “I dream of seeing a Cambodia that is governed by the rule of law. I want justice and real democracy, and environmental sustainability.”

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Hang Chenda at a recent training workshop.

Hang Chenda has spent her life fighting for justice for those who have been unfairly evicted from their land and to end the environmental damage that accompanies it.

Chenda grew up in Ouorknha Heng commune, Prey Nub district, in Preah Sihanouk province. She lived with her father, an Officer at the Department of Public Works and Transportation, and her mother, a housewife, along with two brothers and four sisters. In 1980, she commenced her study in “Pum Kampenh”, a primary school in Preah Sihanouk province. However, given the family’s limited financial resources and her many siblings, Chenda ceased studying after fifth grade. Today, she has two children, and continues to reside in Preah Sihanouk province.

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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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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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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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