Gender-Based Violence and Women Human Rights Defenders

CCHR joined the Human Rights Day Celebration at the Olympic Stadium and raised awareness of women’s rights

On the final day of activism of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (“GBV”), we call for an end to GBV in Cambodia and for an end to GBV against women human right defenders (“WHRDs”). Despite significant efforts by the Royal Government of Cambodia (“RGC”), GBV against women remains an issue of serious concern, particularly the high prevalence of domestic violence and sexual assault. According to a 2015 research report by the World Health Organization, 21% of female respondents had experienced sexual or physical assault at the hands of their partner.

As recognized by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (“CEDAW”), such violence is, in part, justified by social norms and legitimized by persistent discriminatory stereotypes regarding the roles and responsibilities of women and men in the family and society. According to the Chbab Srey, the traditional rules for women and girls in Cambodia, the perfect woman is the obedient wife. The women who do not conform with such stereotypes are often stigmatized, harassed or subject to GBV. This is particularly evident in the treatment of WHRDs who speak out against injustices (most often) perpetrated by men in power.

Like their male counterparts, WHRDs often experience violence, as well as threats, harassment, or arrest at the hands of the authorities or private actors, such as the companies and their private security forces that they are fighting against. They may also face restrictions on, and monitoring of, their activities and impacts on their careers.

But, in addition, WHRDs may also face GBV and other risks, such as domestic violence, sexual violence, family breakdown, and threats against their children. All of these issues often have a severe impact on the mental health of WHRDs, resulting in stress, anxiety and mental illness.

In spite of this, women are often at the forefront of their communities’ activism, particularly in relation to land conflicts. These WHRDs are often driven by the need to provide food and shelter for their family. Yet when women move away from their traditional ‘housewife’ roles to campaign for greater land security, there is an increase in instances of domestic violence. Due to flawed and inadequate legal protections against domestic violence and a culture of impunity for such crimes, such violence often goes unpunished. For example, a study by LICADHO found that only 20% of domestic violence cases monitored between January 2014 and December actually led to criminal proceedings.

In other areas, such as predominantly female industries like garment, textiles and domestic work, women who take on leadership roles to fight for the rights of fellow workers have similarly faced discrimination, intimidation and violence.  

In order to end GBV against women and WHRDs, the root causes of this problem must be addressed. In line with CEDAW’s recommendations, the RGC must adopt a comprehensive strategy to eliminate discriminatory stereotypes and patriarchal attitudes from Cambodian society.

Of course, GBV itself must be stopped. A key step would be to review and amend the Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Protection of Victims so that it comprehensively addresses all forms of GBV experienced by women in Cambodia, particularly domestic and sexual violence. Impunity for these crimes cannot continue and perpetrators must be investigated, prosecuted and adequately punished.

The impact of GBV on women must also be addressed by providing further support to victims/survivors of GBV, such as legal assistance, health-care services and psychosocial support. In order to achieve this, the RGC should provide funding and establish at least five “one-stop service centers” by 2024 for the provision of such support. Given the current lack of such support, CCHR seeks to continue our work in protecting WHRDs by providing them with legal assistance and training so that they can challenge violations of their rights as well as seek support for humanitarian and psychosocial assistance to help them avoid high risk situations and mitigate the impact of traumatic incidents. We also work to raise the visibility of female activists. By giving a platform to their leadership and activism we want women to be seen as key players in social change and decision making, rather than as victims.

Ultimately, the work of WHRDs should not be criticized but encouraged. As community leaders and civil society activists, these women are promoting and protecting the rights of their families, colleagues and communities. The violence against them, along with all GBV against women, must stop. CCHR calls on the RGC to implement the recommendations of CEDAW to eliminate discriminatory attitudes and end GBV against women in Cambodia, and joins Klahaan’s campaign highlighting these recommendations.

Furthermore, to mark these 16 days of activism, CCHR along with other CSO’s and Trade Unions further renewed its call on the government to provide resolutions on “11 key issues and take actions to respond to our women’s needs” as prescribed in a petition submitted to them on the occasion of International Women’s Days in March and on International Labour Day in May 2019.

On the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 2019, we celebrate Cambodia’s Indigenous Peoples’ rights

CCHR met with local communities and Indigenous People in Kratie Province in March 2019 to get an update on their challenging experiences with the issue of land dispute.

On the occasion of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, we wish to jointly celebrate Cambodia’s indigenous communities’ rights.

The rights of Indigenous peoples are guaranteed under Cambodian and International human rights law. These rights include the right to tradition, the right to religion, as well as the right to land and the right to free and informed consent.

Despite these guarantees, indigenous peoples in Cambodia have lost their land at an alarming rate due to large-scale logging of forests, resource extraction, infrastructure projects, and land concessions. In response to these challenges, the Royal Government of Cambodia (“RGC”) has, in theory, recognized collective land rights of indigenous peoples; the 2001 Land Law and the Sub-Decree No.83 on the Procedures of Registration of Land of Indigenous Communities provide for specific recognition of the concept of collective ownership of land, allowing indigenous communities to legally register their communal lands under collective land titles (“CLTs”).

Traditionally, indigenous peoples in Cambodia sustain their livelihoods through cultivating forested land, utilizing a technique known as shifting cultivation, as well as hunting wild animals and gathering forest by-products. In addition, the beliefs, traditions, and identities of indigenous communities in Cambodia are closely tied to the land, which carries major spiritual significance as a link to their ancestors and natural spirits. Despite the importance of land to indigenous communities and the comprehensive legal framework that protects their land rights, in practice the process of obtaining a CLT is lengthy and extremely complex, often subject to lengthy delays due to a lack of political will. Moreover, a lack of implementation of the law has led to Cambodia’s indigenous communities fast losing their communal land and natural resources. As of May 2019, only 24 out of 458 indigenous communities have received CLTs.

The alienation of indigenous people from their land threatens the very existence of Cambodia’s indigenous population. We therefore renew calls on the Royal Government of Cambodia to take appropriate steps to protect the rights of indigenous communities. In particular, the RGC should take concrete measures to facilitate the procedures for CLTs, in line with several recommendation accepted by Cambodia during it third Universal Periodic Review (“UPR”). These include the recommendations to “Take measure to simplify the allocation of community land concessions to indigenous peoples” (110.21), and to “Step up efforts in land matters, including through the effective and transparent implementation of measure to tackle land evictions, and provide the victims of land grabbing, particularly indigenous people, with fair compensation” (110.130).

Furthermore, indigenous rights defenders in Cambodia have faced increasing risks in conducting their legitimate work advocating for the promotion and protection of indigenous peoples’ rights, including acts of violence. We renew calls on the RGC to promptly take measures to protect human rights defenders (“HRDS”), and specifically ensure that HRDs are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear or undue hindrance, obstruction or judicial harassment and other forms of harassment or violence. The RGC must also conduct impartial, thorough and effective investigations into all cases of attacks on and harassment and intimidation against HRDs, including indigenous rights activists, and bring the perpetrators to justice. This in line with Cambodia’s commitment under the UPR to implement a number of recommendations including the recommendation to “Protect […] human rights defenders, […] from harassment, arbitrary arrest and physical attacks, and investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of such attacks” (110.113).

Sopheap Chak, 8 August 2019.


Cambodian women are speaking up for their rights; it’s time we listen

The women of Boeung Kak Lake protest the destruction of their homes in 2012 (pictured centre: famous land activist Tep Vanny)

The women of Boeung Kak Lake protest the destruction of their homes in 2012 (pictured centre: famous land activist Tep Vanny)

Reflecting on International Women’s Day, CCHR looks at the Cambodian women who are challenging gender norms by fighting for their rights

In every facet of society, women across the world continue to possess fewer advantages while enduring greater threats to their safety and well-being. The abuse of women’s rights is considered by some as the concern of women, and women alone. This is not a ‘women’s issue’, it is a human rights issue.[1] In Cambodia, the simple act of a woman speaking out can be seen as defiant and abhorrent. Nevertheless, brave female activists are raising their voices amidst ongoing attempts from the authorities to silence them. As people held flash-mobs to raise awareness of women’s rights ahead of International Women’s Day, events planned by civil society groups to encourage and empower women in prison had to be cancelled due to new restrictions.

“Women continue to face discrimination based on negative social expectations and stereotypes”

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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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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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23 Reasons to Protest

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Protesters outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, 30 May 2014

Our tuk-tuk slows to a halt on Charles de Gaulle Boulevard.  Five of us, who have been piled on the sweaty pleather seats for the last twenty minutes, jump out of the vehicle and take in the surroundings.  The area is already swarming with people: sleepy-eyed police officers and security guards half-heartedly manning the black metal barricades, trial attendees waiting for the court doors to open, and passersby heading to work.

It is Friday, May 30th, and we are awaiting the court verdict for 23 human rights defenders and garment factory workers who have been detained since the beginning of January.  They are accused of instigating violence during strikes calling for minimum wage increases.

During the three days of the trial, CCHR and other human rights organizations noted that the defendants’ rights were violated on several occasions. The 23 were denied bail despite health concerns, initial access to their legal team, and adequate medical care. In addition, there was a complete lack of incriminatory evidence presented during the hearing, and the judge expressed an extreme bias in favor of the prosecution throughout the trial.

Several local and international CCHR staff, including myself, have arrived to monitor the trial and the protests taking place outside. Those inside will determine whether or not the defendants’ fair trial rights are respected, while those outside will observe the protests, operating as witnesses in case they turn violent.

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