Posts Tagged ‘Cambodia’

UN human rights experts ‘alarmed’ by treatment of human rights defenders in Cambodia.

November 17, 2020

Voicing concerns over increasing restrictions on civil society in Cambodia, a group of independent UN human rights experts have called for an immediate end to the systematic detention and criminalization of human rights defenders. 

In a statement on 16 November 2020 Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said she was “alarmed” by credible reports that at least 21 human rights defenders have been subjected to threats, arbitrary arrests and detentions in the past three months. 

I have reviewed publicly available footage where excessive force has been used by the security forces to prohibit human rights defenders, many of them women, from exercising their rights to peaceful assembly. Promotion and protection of human rights through peaceful means is not a crime,” she said. 

Ms. Lawlor referred to several cases in which detention has reportedly been used to punish human rights defenders for carrying out their work.  

Rights defender Rong Chhun was arrested on 31 July after taking up the case of farmers in Tbong Khmom province who had their land taken in connection with a border demarcation between Cambodia and Viet Nam.  

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/16/even-simply-remembering-kem-ley-is-forbidden-in-cambodia/

Subsequently, several other human rights defenders who protested his detention were also arrested. Twelve remain in pre-trial detention, have been denied bail, and are facing charges punishable by up to two years in prison. 

Human rights defenders should never be criminalized for their courageous efforts to protect the rights of others … I am increasingly concerned by the circular pattern of detaining them for advocating against the detention of or violations against fellow defenders,” said Ms. Lawlor. 

There seems to be no limit to who the authorities will target, making their actions in recent months appear as a concerted attempt to erode civic space and stifle the work of human rights defenders,” she added. 

Rhona Smith, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, also voiced concerns over the restrictions, urging the authorities to end “this harmful approach to human rights defenders and facilitate freedom of expression and assembly, for the benefit of all members of society in Cambodia.” [see also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/03/11/even-landmark-un-decision-does-not-change-cambodias-treatment-of-human-rights-defenders/]

The statement was also endorsed by the special rapporteurs on the rights of peaceful assembly and association, and on the freedom of opinion and expression, and the members of Working Group on discrimination against women and girls

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/11/1077702  

BBC podcast on the framing of video monk Luon Sovath

November 2, 2020

On 31 October 2020 the BBC published a very interesting podcast on Luon Sovath, the Buddhist monk who has long been a thorn in the side of the Cambodian governmen and has been targeted by a state-sponsored disinformation campaign. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/23/more-details-about-luon-sovaths-framing-and-facebooks-role/] The podcast is presented by Reha Kansara.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w3cszvsm

For the film on the MEA 2012 laureate, see:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w3cszvsm

Sergio Pinheiro, UN human rights veteran, speaks out

September 21, 2020

Jamil Chade in Geneva spoke with Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, 25 years with the UN, recently as Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria. Swissinfo published the result on 20 September 2020 under the title UN human rights veteran is a target in his native Brazil

swissinfo.ch: After 25 years of service at the UN, what role do you believe the international body can actually play to protect human rights? 

Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro: If we think of the United Nations as a whole, from the very beginning human rights have been at its core, starting with the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They are present in decisions at the General Assembly and the Security Council. All UN agencies protect human rights around the world. But the most important body that ensures this is the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, with its special rapporteurs [in place] since 1979 examining the human rights situation in various countries, assisted by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro (centre) listens to an official while visiting the Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar, during his visit to the Asian country in November 2007 as an independent rights investigator. Keystone / Str

Have you experienced any frustrations because of the limits of the international role?

Only the victims – whom I prefer to call survivors – of human rights violations can feel frustration. Those of us who try to bring rights violations to light and seek justice are only frustrated by UN bodies that don’t function as they should. After more than 10 years of human rights violations and war crimes [in Syria, for example], the malfunctioning of the Security Council means that these crimes are not being tried at the International Criminal Court. This is not only frustrating but also inexplicable for survivors of the war.

In Burundi, in your first assignment in 1995, there was a real expectation that progress would be made. Did it work out?

The special rapporteur has no magic wand to change the situation in a particular country. But it makes a difference that there were special rapporteurs and, after 2016, a commission of inquiry. Local civil society is stronger, and the government feels empowered in the area of human rights. My best interlocutor there was the human rights minister Eugene Nindorera, who later became a UN director of human rights for missions in Ivory Coast and South Sudan.

You also spent years dealing with Myanmar and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, when she was still under house arrest. What were those meetings like?

Myanmar was an exceptional case, because it was a military government that wanted to get closer to UN human rights bodies and civil society. During the first four years, I got access to all the places and institutions I requested. But neither I nor the other UN representatives in the country responded satisfactorily to this openness. The government therefore was not able to justify our presence to the military junta [which effectively ruled the country] and was eventually ousted. I did not go back until four years later, in 2007, when there was an uprising by the [Buddhist] monks and civil society.

The war in Syria is now nearly ten years old, and the inquiry you are leading has gathered an unprecedented amount of information on the crisis. What can you do with this information? 

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic is not a court, and it doesn’t have any competence in political negotiations. The aim of these commissions is to investigate and document human rights violations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. We work to address the right to truth of the Syrian people.

Our database has been used in investigations into human rights perpetrators of the conflict that were opened in several countries. Our data has also been used by the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism on Syria, which is preparing criminal cases to be brought before the courts in the future.

2020 also marks the 75th anniversary of the UN. What is there to celebrate? 

There is more to commemorate than there is to regret. Let’s imagine that the UN did not exist. International conflicts would be much more intense, humanitarian crises would not be addressed, and there would be even fewer guarantees of economic and social rights. And the application, even if flawed, of the principles of the Universal Declaration and the human rights conventions would be even less effective. My assistant when I was working in Burundi, Brigitte Lacroix, said to me when she left: “Paulo, what really matters is what you will do for the victims. From the perspective of the survivors, we must be glad because they are at the centre of our actions.”

The UN and multilateralism are at a crossroads, and the response to the pandemic is showing that. Is there a real risk to the system?

The pandemic has clearly exposed the inequality, the concentration of income, and the racism that continue to prevail in almost all societies, both in the North and the South. No one has escaped. Those who were poor are getting poorer, the healthcare situation of the poor has gotten worse, not only in the lack of care for those affected by Covid-19, but in the right to healthcare in general.

I don’t think that after the pandemic there will automatically be greater solidarity […] or better care for the disenfranchised. For this to happen, UN member states, instead of denying resources to the system – as they did with the WHO – have to increase their political support and financial resources to the UN.

Has your Brazilian citizenship helped you in your international work over the last 25 years?

Latin America, as a former French ambassador to Brazil, Alain Rouquié, says in one of his books, is the “Far West”, a category apart from the western world. Because they are in this group, Brazilians are perceived as being independent. After the return to democracy in 1985 and until the Dilma Rousseff administration [in 2016], Brazil was considered an honest broker – a reliable negotiator. Because during this period we never denied serious human rights violations in Brazil. Every country wanted to be in the picture with Brazil – until the coup against President Dilma Rousseff took place. At the UN Human Rights Council, Brazil was always present for the most sensitive resolutions, such as on homosexuality, racism, and violence against women and children. I think that Brazil’s aura has certainly been of benefit to me.

You were included in a list [of so-called “anti-fascists”] prepared by the Ministry of Justice in Brazil this summer – a dossier of sorts of those who question the government.

It was a strange honour to have been included, when it would have been enough to open Google to see what I think, say and do in Brazil, in UN bodies and around the world. It was a regrettable initiative to resurrect the abhorrent political espionage dossiers of the military dictatorship.

Fortunately, the Federal Supreme Court made a historic decision – in a 9-1 vote on August 21 – to prohibit the Ministry of Justice from distributing these reports on what certain citizens think and do.

https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/un-human-rights-veteran-is-a-target-in-his-native-brazil/46025454

Cambodia: Arbitrary arrest of Mother Nature activists

September 9, 2020

On 8 September 2020 the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requests  urgent intervention in the arbitrary arrest of Mother Nature activists Thun Ratha, Long Kunthea and Phoun Keo Reaksme in Cambodia.

The three environmental activists and members of “Mother Nature”, were arrested for denouncing the exploitation of Phnom Penh‘s Bueng Ta-mouk lake. The project aims to build a military base, which will destroy the habitat of many bird species and damage biodiversity, and is also expected to cause significant flooding in Phnom Penh.  According to the information received, on September 3, 2020, Ms. Long Kunthea and Ms. Phoun Keo Reaksmey were arrested by police in Phnom Penh as they were about to walk from Wat Phnom to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house in order to request a meeting with the Prime Minister to share their concerns over a number of environmental issues, including the development of Bueng Ta-mouk lake. On the same day, Mr. Thun Ratha was arrested at his home in Khan Pur Sentchey District, Phnom Penh, by around 25 police officers, who surrounded the property for approximately two hours before arresting him. The police padlocked the property shut and left a letter displayed on the door informing that the operation was taken on the grounds that Mr. Thun Ratha “published the information without legal permission”, without specifying which information was published or what the legal grounds were for requiring permission over such a publication.

On September 6, 2020, the three were charged with “incitement to cause societal chaos” (articles 494 and 495 of the Cambodian Criminal Code) and placed in pre-trial detention. They could face up to two years in prison. Mr. Thun Ratha was taken to the Correctional Center 1 while Ms. Long Kunthea and Ms. Phoun Keo Reaksmey were taken to the Correctional Center 2.

The Observatory reiterates its deepest concern about the fact that Cambodian authorities regularly use legal harassment and the politicised judicial system to target land and environmental activists and recalls in particular that this is not the first time that Mr. Thun Ratha and other Mother Nature activists have faced harassment.

https://www.rfa.org/english/news/cambodia/incitement-09082020201342.html

https://www.omct.org/human-rights-defenders/urgent-interventions/cambodia/2020/09/d26068/

More details about Luon Sovath’s framing and Facebook’s role

August 23, 2020

On 23 August 2020 the International New York Times published “Threatened by Facebook disinformation, a Buddhist monk flees Cambodia”  which is a detailed piece about
Cambodian monk and MEA laureate 2012 Luon Sovath, who was the victim of a smear campaign this summer that relied on fake claims and hastily assembled social media accounts designed to discredit an outspoken critic of the country’s authoritarian policies. The New York Times investigation found a lot more…
Re Luon see; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/06/cambodian-monk-council-defrocks-video-monk-luon-sovath/
—–
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/23/world/asia/cambodia-facebook-disinformation.html
https://www.deccanherald.com/international/threatened-by-facebook-disinformation-a-buddhist-monk-flees-cambodia-876659.html

Even simply remembering Kem Ley is forbidden in Cambodia

July 16, 2020

Cambodia continues to block memorial activities honoring murdered political analyst Kem Ley [See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/12/third-anniversary-kem-ley-murder-cambodia-impunity/]

Individuals and groups were blocked by police and local authorities in Cambodia from holding activities commemorating the fourth anniversary of the death of political analyst Kem Ley.

Kem Ley was killed at a gas station on July 10, 2016. Many suspect the murder was linked to his work as a commentator and political analyst. He was murdered days after he gave a radio interview about a Global Witness report detailing corruption under the Hun Sen government, which has ruled the country since 1985.

On July 8, a group of monks and young activists were prevented by police from holding a memorial service at the gas station where the late analyst was killed. They were forced instead to hold their prayers on a sidewalk more than 100 meters from the site.

A young man wearing a shirt with Kem Ley’s face printed on it was arrested that day. The next day, a group of youth leaders were blocked by security forces from travelling to Kem Ley’s family home in Takeo.

Another convoy of monks and activists was blocked on July 10. But supporters of the slain commentator continued to honor him by embarking on a march of several kilometers. Chheang Sinath, a tuk-tuk (three-wheeled vehicle) driver and member of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association, criticized authorities’ actions in an interview with VOD news:

We just came to participate and show respect. Just participating and remembering [Kem Ley’s] sacrifice for society is seen as a wrongdoing [by authorities]. This is not appropriate unless we hold a demonstration or protest something. This is just a ceremony to pay gratitude to him, but authorities tried to stop us.

Venerable Bo Bet, a monk from a Phnom Penh pagoda, expressed frustration that his group of 10 monks was not allowed to pay respects to Kem Ley:

We want to pay respects at the place he was killed, and we will also hold ceremonies at other places. We come here and want to burn incense. We want to hold funeral rites at the site. We want to remember his good deeds here because we do this only once a year.

Kem Ley’s wife and kids were forced to seek asylum in Australia after his death. Bou Rachana thanked supporters of her late husband for their efforts.

See also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/17/swedens-aid-to-cambodia-refocuses-on-civil-society/

https://globalvoices.org/2020/07/15/cambodia-continues-to-block-memorial-activities-honoring-murdered-analyst-kem-ley/

Sweden’s aid to Cambodia refocuses on civil society

June 17, 2020

Sweden’s Ambassador to Cambodia Bjorn Haggmark (left) meets with Kem Sokha, leader of the dissolved main opposition CNRP, at Sokha’s home, in this photograph posted to Sokha’s Facebook page on May 19, 2020.
The Cambodia Daily

On 13 June 2020 this newspaper reported that Sweden said it would phase out bilateral development funding to Cambodia by the middle of next year in order to focus aid on promoting human rights, democracy and rule of law in the country following severe rights restrictions in recent years.

In a press statement on Friday, the Swedish Embassy in Phnom Penh said its government decided on Thursday to shift its funding away from bilateral aid to the Cambodian government and toward programs that aim to develop democracy in the Asia Pacific region, which would also aid Cambodia.

The statement said Sweden would still support civil society, human rights defenders and democracy advocates in Cambodia, though it did not clarify which organizations may qualify for assistance.

In full: https://vodenglish.news/sweden-to-refocus-cambodia-aid-due-to-rights-concerns/

https://english.cambodiadaily.com/politics/sweden-to-refocus-cambodia-aid-due-to-rights-concerns-165383/

Cambodian Monk Council defrocks “video monk’ Luon Sovath

June 6, 2020

0n 4 June 2020 Sun Narin for the VOA reported that The Monk Council in Siem Reap province, Cambodia, expelled prominent activist monk and human rights defender Venerable Luon Savath based on leaked audio recordings purportedly between the monk and a group of women.

Venerable Loun Sovath, an award-winning human rights activist, attends the commemoration of the sixth anniversary of the violent crackdown on garment workers in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, January 3, 2020. (Hul Reaksmey/VOA Khmer)
Venerable Loun Sovath, an award-winning human rights activist, attends the commemoration of the sixth anniversary of the violent crackdown on garment workers in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, January 3, 2020. (Hul Reaksmey/VOA Khmer)

This in not the first time that Loun Sovath is in trouble with the ‘authorities’ be they secular or religious, so there could be reasonable doubt about the veracity of the recordings. See:

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/11/05/cambodian-mea-laureate-2012-luon-sovath-charged-with-incitement/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/11/22/martin-ennals-award-jury-expresses-its-concern-about-loun-sovath-martin-ennals-award-laureate-2012/

The leaked audio recordings are purportedly between the monk and a group of women. In a decision dated June 3, head of the Monk Council in Siem Reap, Chum Kimleng, alleged that Luon Sovath had conversations about “deep love” with women, which were shared on Facebook. The statement added that the conversations were between the monk, a woman and her daughters, alleging that Luon Sovath indulged in sexual activity.

If Luon Sovath wears monk robes from now on, related authorities take legal actions,” read the announcement, which defrocked the monk effective Wednesday.

The Monk Council claimed to have investigated the video recordings, but did not provide any evidence or forensic analysis with the statement to show the voice in the recordings belonged to Luon Sovath or if he had acted in violation of religious norms. VOA Khmer attempted to reach Luon Sovath on the phone and his social media accounts on Thursday, but the activist monk did not respond to requests for comment.

There are four videos circulating on Facebook, and seem to originate from one account, called Srey Da Chi-Kraeng that was created on May 30. The videos, according to the accompanying text on Facebook, are recordings with four women – a mother and three daughters.

The video recordings are of an unidentified person, or persons, sitting in a dimly-lit room and having Facebook audio conversation, ranging seven to 10 minutes each. The video is shot so that only the person’s hand holding the smartphone can be seen.

The Facebook account involved in the alleged call has a male voice and uses the image of Luon Sovath and his name in Khmer script. The conversations are flirtatious in nature and include discussions about giving each other massages.

VOA Khmer could identify two Facebook accounts and one page used by Luon Sovath in the past. One of the accounts, which seems to belong to the venerable monk was created in 2017, it has the same display picture as that seen in the videotaped Facebook calls.

However, VOA Khmer found another Facebook account, called Luon Sovath, using the same display picture and was created on May 29, a day before the Srey Da Chi-Kraeng account was created.

The Monk Council in Siem Reap could not be reached on Thursday to provide details of their investigation into the recordings.

Bor Bet, a monk and member of Independent Monk Network for Social Justice, received a call from Luon Sovath last week, with the activist monk alleging that “people wanted to mistreat me.”

“He told me that they want to frame him,” Bor Bet said. “[Luon Sovath said] it is a political case and done because we are human right defenders.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Culture and Religion, Seng Somony, said the ministry had received the decision to defrock Luon Sovath, rejecting the accusation that the development was politically motivated…

Luon Sovath has been internationally recognized for his work in documenting land rights abuses in Cambodia and was featured in the documentary, A Cambodian Spring. [https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/may/20/cambodian-spring-review] In 2012, he received the Martin Ennals Award.

https://www.voacambodia.com/a/monk-council-expels-activist-monk-luon-sovath-for-alleged-intimate-relationship/5448949.html

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Bachelet calls for restraint in governments’ COVID emergency powers

April 29, 2020

UN rights chief calls for restraint in governments’ COVID-19 emergency powers

photo credit: UN

During the ongoing pandemic, the exercise of emergency powers has been used as an excuse for unlawful detention, restriction of movement and suppression of press freedoms, according to Bachelet. The International Press Institute (IPI), a press freedoms watchdog, reports that many nations have silenced journalists under the pretext of stifling “fake news.” The IPI maintains a list of international media freedom violations occurring as a result of emergency powers abuses.

In Cambodia the application of emergency powers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in the unlawful detention of those who disobey the emergency measures for up to 10 years in a move Amnesty International called “a naked power grab which seeks to manipulate the COVID-19 crisis in order to severely undercut human rights.” Further human rights abuses are reported from El Salvador, where grocery shoppers were unlawfully detained when President Nayib Bukele defied a Supreme Court order in their defense. In Central Asia, Amnesty International reports massive expansion of police powers through emergency powers granted during the pandemic.

To guide responsible enacting of emergency powers, the UN has released a new set of policy guidelines that advise states to follow principles such as legality, proportionality and non-discrimination during “humane application of emergency powers,” pursuant to the International Covenant on Human Rights. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/14/un-guidelines-for-use-of-emergency-powers-in-time-of-covid-19-pandemic/.

Given the exceptional nature of the crisis, it is clear States need additional powers to cope,” Bachelet’s statement concluded. “However, if the rule of law is not upheld, then the public health emergency risks becoming a human rights disaster, with negative effects that will long outlast the pandemic itself.”

 

Hull and Oxford University honour UN Special Rapporteur Professor Subedi

April 24, 2020

The University of Hull in the UK has awarded the degree of Doctor of Laws (LLD), honoris causa, to Professor Surya P. Subedi, QC, OBE, DCL in recognition of his accomplishments in the field of international law and human rights, the university said in a press statement. Professor Subedi had obtained an LLM with Distinction and a prize for best LLM student of the year in 1988 at Hull. Commenting on the award of such a high accolade by Hull, he said he was honored by the recognition of his accomplishments by his alma mater.

The 62-year-old professor was graduated from the Tribhuvan University, Nepal. Upon completion of his LLM, Professor Subedi won an FCO scholarship to study for a DPhil (PhD) in Law at the University of Oxford and obtained his degree with a prize in 1993. Last year, Oxford awarded him the highest degree – the Doctor of Civil Law in recognition of his contribution to international law and human rights.

This year the University of Oxford has established two awards in the name of Professor Surya Prasad SubediThe first prize named Dr Surya Subedi Award in Human Rights Law will be given to the outstanding performer in the Human Rights Law (Bachelor’s degree) and the second award named the Dr Surya Subedi Award for the D Phil in Law will be given for the doctoral thesis adjudged the best in the Faculty of Law. Prof Subedi expressed his happiness over the establishment of two awards by one of the world’s distinguished universities in his recognition. .

https://www.nepal24hours.com/oxford-university-establishes-two-awards-in-honour-of-prof-subedi/

https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/hull-university-awards-doctor-of-laws-to-uk-based-nepali-professor-subedi/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surya_Subedi