Posts Tagged ‘Cambodia’
I was reading (belatedly) about the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Rhona Smith, who in January 2017 intervened strongly in the case of the 5 Cambodian human rights defenders of ADHOC (#FreeThe5KH) who have been in detention since April last year. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/05/04/civil-society-condemns-charges-human-rights-defenders-cambodia/] Only then did I realize that the case had led a few months earlier to a landmark decision by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD): the first time that any UN body has referred to HRDs as a protected group.
On 21 November 21, 2016, the WGAD ruled that the ongoing detention of Mr. Ny Chakrya, Deputy Secretary-General of the National Election Committee (NEC), and four staff members of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), Messrs. Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, Nay Vanda, and Ms. Lim Mony, was “arbitrary.” Following a submission made by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OMCT-FIDH partnership), the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) in June 2016, the WGAD’s Opinion No. 45/2016 ruled that the five human rights defenders (HRDs) “have been discriminated against based on their status as human rights defenders, and in violation of their right to equality before the law and equal protection of the law under article 26 of the ICCPR.” This is the first time ever that the WGAD – or any other UN mechanism receiving individual complaints – has referred to HRDs as a protected group that is entitled to equal legal protection under Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The ruling also recognised the violation of the five HRDs’ “rights to offer and provide professionally qualified legal assistance and other relevant advice and assistance in defending human rights.”
In addition, the WGAD found that the targeting of ADHOC staff members for having provided “legitimate legal advice and other assistance” violated the five HRDs’ right to freedom of association. It ruled that violations of fair trial rights (including the fact that the five were denied legal counsel from the beginning of their questioning), unjustified pre-trial detention, and statements made by the Cambodian authorities which denied the five the presumption of innocence – all of which contravene Cambodia’s international human rights obligations in respect to the right to a fair trial – are also serious enough to consider their ongoing detention as arbitrary. The WGAD concluded that “the deprivation of liberty of Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan, Lim Monyand Ny Chakrya, being in contravention of articles 7, 9, 10, 11 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of articles 9, 10, 14, 22 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is arbitrary.”
That Cambodian authorities are not impressed is shown by the continued detention of the 5 ADHOC HRDs and by the press release of 7 February 2017 calling for the cessation of the politically motivated criminal investigation of human rights defenders Am Sam-at and Chan Puthisak. Amnesty International, Civil Rights Defenders, Human Rights Watch, and the International Commission of Jurists signed the statement.
In 2012 – in the run up to the London Olympics – the Playfair 2012 Campaign (supported by War on Want and others) highlighted the appalling experiences of workers making Adidas official Olympic and Team GB goods in China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. “Around the world 775,000 workers, mainly women, in 1,200 factories across 65 countries make Adidas products. Almost all of the jobs are outsourced to factories in poorer countries, yet through Adidas’ buying practices the company has enormous influence over their working conditions, and ultimately their lives. In the run up the London 2012 Olympics research has exposed the harsh reality of life for these workers.” The campaign demanded Adidas to end worker exploitation. playfair2012.org
In a report of 11 March 2015 on Labor Rights Abuses in Cambodia’s Garment Industry Human Rights Watch noted that brands can do more and said “For example, Adidas wrote to Human Rights Watch that it first started privately disclosing its supplier list to academics and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in 2001 and moved to a public disclosure system in 2007.”
In an article in Open Democracy of 17 June 2015 Mauricio Lazala and Joe Bardwell under the title: “What human rights?” Why some companies speak out while others don’t.” state that: “More recently, civil society has called on FIFA sponsors to respond to human rights concerns at construction sites for the Qatar 2022 World Cup. So far, Adidas, Coca-Cola and Visa have issued statements supporting workers’ rights in the country”
In an article published on 16 November 2015, ISHR Director Phil Lynch explored the role, responsibility and interest of business when it comes to supporting human rights defenders and protecting civil society space. He mentions Adidas in the following context: The fourth and final category of actions, perhaps the most important but also the least common, involves business actively advocating and seeking remedy for human rights defenders and against laws and policies which restrict them. Such action could be private, as I understand to be the predominant approach of Adidas. It could also be public, such as the open letters and press statements issued by Tiffany & Co and others for the release of Angolan defender and journalist Rafael Marques
On 31 December 2015, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre listed in its “KnowTheChain” (a ranking of 20 apparel and footwear companies on efforts to address forced labour in the supply chain) Germany-based Adidas as number one out of 20.
On 21 June 2016 Adidas published its policy on HRDs: “The Adidas Group and Human Rights Defenders“. As there is such a dearth of corporate policies specifically on human rights defenders, here follows the key part in quote:
The threats faced by human rights defenders come in many forms – physical, psychological, economic, and social – and involve the interaction of many factors (poor governance, the absence of the rule of law, intolerance, tensions over development issues, etc.) and can be triggered by different actors, both private and State.
In his report to the General Assembly in 2015, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders recommended that both States and businesses should play an active role in supporting and promoting the role of HRDs working in their sectors. This should include, for example, speaking out when human right defenders are targeted for their corporate accountability work. Businesses must also cease and abstain from supporting any actions, directly or indirectly, which impinge upon defenders’ rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.
The adidas Group has a longstanding policy of non-interference with the activities of human rights defenders, including those who actively campaign on issues that may be linked to our business operations. We expect our business partners to follow the same policy; they should not inhibit the lawful actions of a human rights defender or restrict their freedom of expression, freedom of association, or right to peaceful assembly.
We value the input and views of all stakeholders and we are willing, and open, to engage on any issue, be this related to our own operations or our supply chain. Often, our engagement with human rights defenders is constructive, especially where we identify areas of shared concern. For example, with respect to transparency and fair play in sports, or environmental sustainability, or the protection of worker rights in our global supply chain. In these instances, we may actively support the work of the HRD and derive shared value from our joint endeavours in, say, improving working conditions, safety, or the environment.
As usual, the Geneva-based International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) has published a preview of the main items coming up in the next (33rd) session of the Human Rights Council‘s starting on Tuesday 13 September 2016. It will finish on 30 September. For human rights defenders the focus on the question of reprisals is of great importance.
Other thematic issues are: enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and National Human Rights Institutions.
A highlight this session will be the opportunity for States to respond to the Secretary-General’s latest report documenting serious cases of intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders, and contribute to finding concrete solutions at panel discussion to be hosted by the core group of States on this topic (Hungary, Uruguay, Ghana, Ireland and Fiji). The Secretary General’s annual report on cooperation with the UN, its mechanisms and representatives in the field of human rights – more frequently referred to as the “reprisals report” – will be presented at this session of the Council. The report covers the period from 1 June 2015 onwards.
Particular attention during HRC33 will be paid to Bahrain. According to allegations of travel bans against human rights defenders documented by the President of the Human Rights Council, and communicated via the minutes of a recent meeting of the HRC Bureau [LINK], in which the President expressed concern about “the lack of appropriate action or adequate explanatory information from the concerned State” to the allegations.
The Secretary-General’s report consists of a compilation of cases of intimidation and reprisals due to cooperation with the UN organisations and its specialised agencies in the field of human rights, including cases in relation to the Council, its UPR and Special Procedures; Human Rights Treaty Bodies; the OHCHR, its field presences and Human Rights Advisers; United Nations Country Teams; human rights components of peacekeeping missions and other parts of the Secretariat or specialized agencies working in the field of human rights.
The Secretary General’s last report documented a significant number of cases in which people have been threatened, stigmatised, censored, restricted from travelling, detained, beaten, held in solitary confinement, disappeared, and tortured for their work to expose and pursue accountability for human rights violations at the UN. In many of the cases the threats and attacks have not been properly investigated nor have perpetrators been held to account. However, the report did note a range of positive developments aimed at preventing and promoting accountability for reprisals highlighting that:
- a number of treaty bodies have appointed reprisals rapporteurs or focal points,
- the treaty bodies as a whole have recently adopted a comprehensive set of guidelines on combatting intimidation and reprisals, and
- the President of the Human Rights Council has developed ‘ways of addressing the issue of reprisals in a more coherent and systematic manner’.
In line with previous recommendations of the Secretary-General, States are encouraged to use the General Debate under Item 5 to address the cases documented. This should include in particular the States concerned, i.e. those mentioned in the report, who are expected by civil society to respond to the allegations and set out the steps taken to investigate them, hold the perpetrators to account and provide remedies to the victims.
Many of my earlier posts relate to reprisals: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/reprisals/, including: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/zero-tolerance-for-states-that-take-reprisals-against-hrds-lets-up-the-ante/
Working Group on Enforced Disappearances
The Working Group on Enforced Disappearances will present its report, summarising its activities over the last year and previewing its thematic study on enforced disappearances in the context of migration. Included in this is a short discussion of ‘individuals [who] migrate due to the disappearances of their relatives or loved ones or to avoid reprisals due to their work in searching and pursuing justice… and human rights defenders who are forced to migrate due to their work fighting enforced disappearances.’ The Working Group’s report also expresses serious concern as to ‘a pattern of threats, intimidation and reprisals against victims of enforced disappearance, including family members, witnesses and human rights defenders working on such cases. It calls upon States to take specific measures to prevent such acts and re-iterates the call for the UN to appoint a high-level official to combat reprisals as a matter of urgency and priority.
Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
The mandate of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention will be renewed at this session. Among the likely ‘asks’ of the resolution are more resources to support their ability to respond to victims of arbitrary detention, the ability to raise awareness through reporting to the UN General Assembly and the mandate from the Council to embark on a thematic study.
National human rights institutions
National human rights institutions have a vital role to play in contributing to the national implementation of international human rights obligations. The annual report of the Secretary-General and High Commissioner sets out a range of steps and measures that both States and NHRIs should take in this regard. For States, such steps should include ensuring that the NHRI is broadly mandated (including in respect of economic, social and cultural rights), that it is adequately resourced, authorised to inspect places of detention, and protected from interference, intimidation and reprisals. For NHRIs, the report emphasises the importance of engaging and consulting closely with civil society, contributing to the protection of human rights defenders, and enhancing cooperation with international human rights mechanisms as a means of bridging the ‘implementation gap’.
Of special relevance for human rights defenders are also the country situations on the agenda of the 33rd Session:
Following the special session of the Human Rights Council on Burundi in December 2015, an interactive dialogue on the situation in Burundi is scheduled to take place on 27 September. From 13 to 17 June three human rights experts of the United Nations Independent Investigation on Burundi conducted their second visit to Burundi to address the human rights concerns raised in the special session Human Rights Council resolution. The experts will present their final report to the Human Rights Council this session. The gravity of human rights violations and the level of State responsibility in Burundi is unacceptable. [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/02/08/what-is-burundi-doing-in-the-un-human-rights-council/]
Given the deteriorating situation of human rights in Cambodia, and the impunity with which intimidation and violence against human rights defenders occur, a range of national and international organisations calls on the Council to adopt a resolution on the country. This step would acknowledge the backsliding over the last year; reiterate the Council’s expectations for meaningful cooperation, with the Special Rapporteur and the OHCHR; and lay out benchmarks for the coming year, in light of the 2017 elections and the anniversary of the Paris Peace agreement, that would indicate clear progress achieved through the technical assistance and capacity-building mandate The interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia, scheduled for 28 September, is a chance for the international community to hear from, and respond to, Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith following her visits to the country and the communications she and other UN experts sent related to harassment and detention of NGO workers and the killing of well-known public figure Kem Ley. [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/05/04/civil-society-condemns-charges-human-rights-defenders-cambodia/]
Individual interactive dialogues with mandate holders will be held in relation to Sudan, Central African Republic and Somalia. Interactive dialogues on the High Commissioner’s reports and oral updates will be held on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, and Ukraine. The High Commissioner will present his reports on Cambodia and Yemen in a General Debate under Item 10. There will also be an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria.
The Council will adopt the UPR reports of 14 countries.
A press release of 9 June 2016 reports that the European Parliament – in three resolutions voted on Thursday – focused on:
Opposition in Cambodia
MEPs deplore the worsening climate for opposition politicians and human rights activists in Cambodia and condemn all acts of violence, politically-motivated charges, arbitrary detention, questioning, sentences and convictions imposed on them. The Cambodian authorities should revoke the arrest warrant for, and drop all charges against, Sam Rainsy, President of the leading opposition party, the CNRP, and also immediately release the five human rights defenders still in preventive custody, namely Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan, Lim Mony and Ny Chakra. All politicians, activists and human rights defenders should “be allowed to work freely without fear of arrest or persecution”.
Given that the EU is Cambodia’s largest development assistance partner, with a new allocation of €410 million for 2014-2020, Parliament calls on the European External Action Service (EEAS) to make the “amount of EU financial assistance dependent on improvements in the human rights situation in the country”. EU member states, foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, the EEAS and the EU Commission should also set out clear benchmarks for the forthcoming elections in Cambodia, consistent with international law on freedom of expression, association and assembly, it adds.
Prisoners of conscience in Tajikistan
Parliament is deeply concerned about increases in the detention and arrest of human rights lawyers, political opposition members and their relatives in Tajikistan. Restrictions on media freedom and internet and mobile communications, and restrictions on religious expression are also worrying in this country, it adds. MEPs call for the release of all those imprisoned on politically-motived charges, including, well-known businessman and government critic Abubakr Azizkhodzhaev, opposition figure Zaid Saidov, activist Maksud Ibragimov, opposition deputy leaders Mahmadali Hayit and Saidumar Hussaini, and 11 other members of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT).
The EU has a “vital interest in stepping up political, economic and security cooperation with the Central Asian region via a strong and open EU-Tajikistan relationship”, says the resolution. But “political and economic relations with the EU are deeply linked to the sharing of values relating to respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms”, adds the text.
Protesters in Vietnam
MEPs deplore continuing human rights violations in Vietnam, including “political intimidation, harassment, assaults, arbitrary arrests, heavy prison sentences and unfair trials, perpetrated against political activists, journalists, bloggers, dissidents and human rights defenders”, and call on the government of Vietnam to put an “immediate stop to all harassment, intimidation, and persecution” of these individuals. “The increasing levels of violence perpetrated against Vietnamese protesters” demonstrating throughout the country in May 2016 to express their anger over “an ecological catastrophe that decimated the nation’s fish stocks” are worrying, note MEPs. The Vietnam government should respect the right to freedom of assembly in line with its international human rights obligations, the findings of the investigations into the environmental disaster should be published and those responsible should be held accountable, they add.
The resolution also calls on the Vietnam government to put an end to religious persecution in the country, to amend legislation on the status of religious minorities and to withdraw the fifth draft of the law on belief and religion, currently being debated in the National Assembly, as it is “incompatible with international norms of freedom religion or belief”.
After more than eight years in the making, the documentary ‘The Cause of Progress’ will have its world première at the Sheffield international documentary festival on 11 June 2016. Preliminary versions of this film by Chris Kelly were shown in closed circles (see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/documentary-the-rights-of-others-shows-human-rights-defenders-in-cambodia-against-evictions/) but it has now been finalised. Read the rest of this entry »
On 2 May 2016, a broad range of 59 human rights and civil society organizations condemned the politically-motivated charging of six human rights defenders from a Cambodian human rights group, the country’s National Election Committee (NEC) and the United Nation’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR). The targeting of these individuals, five of whom were sent to pre-trial detention today, is the latest escalation in a far-reaching government assault on civil society ahead of upcoming local and national elections, and is a clear reprisal for support provided by rights workers in a politically-sensitive case.
Four senior staff of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) – Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan and Lim Mony – were today charged with bribery of a witness under Criminal Code Article 548 and sent to CC1 and CC2 prisons in Phnom Penh. In addition, former ADHOC staffer Ny Chakrya, recently appointed deputy secretary-general of the NEC, and UNOHCHR staffer Soen Sally were charged as accomplices to bribery of a witness (Criminal Code Articles 29 & 548). Ny Chakrya was sent to Police Judiciare (PJ) prison. If convicted, all six could be sentenced to between five and ten years’ imprisonment.
The six human rights defenders were summoned by the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) for questioning last week and all but the UNOHCHR staffer subject to at least four days of interrogation – firstly by the ACU and then by the prosecutor – in relation to a complaint signed by Khom Chandaraty, also known as Srey Mom. The complaint was lodged following her questioning by anti-terrorism police and a prosecutor about an alleged affair with deputy opposition leader Khem Sokha, after ADHOC responded to Srey Mom’s request for legal and material assistance. In the context of such support, ADHOC provided Srey Mom with $204 to cover food and transport costs, including to attend questioning by judicial authorities. This legitimate expenditure of a small sum of money to cover basic expenses of a client is now grotesquely being portrayed by the ACU as bribery and corruption.
The targeting of UNOHCHR staffer Soen Sally by the ACU and the court has disregarded his diplomatic immunity as an employee of the United Nations. The ACU, and later the Prime Minister himself, both argued that Soen Sally does not enjoy such protection.
The case is a farcical use of both the criminal justice system and state institutions as tools to intimidate, criminalise and punish the legitimate activities of human rights defenders and civil society. The ACU was created to tackle the endemic corruption prevalent in Cambodia, not to operate as a vehicle for government repression of civil society. The involvement of Ministry of Interior Central Security officers alongside ACU personnel dealing with the case clearly demonstrates the securitization of civil society activities.
Under international human rights law, including treaties that Cambodia has ratified, Cambodia is legally bound to respect and protect the human rights of all people under its jurisdiction, including the rights to freedom from arbitrary deprivation of liberty, and freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.
“The charges brought against the six human rights defenders are blatantly politically-motivated and a direct attack against those serving people who fall prey to Cambodia’s government,” said Naly Pilorge, LICADHO director. “These mounting attacks represent an alarming tightening of the noose around civil society and those who work to uphold human rights, and clearly show that the government’s ultimate aim is total control ahead of the upcoming elections.”
Civil society reiterates its strong condemnation of the charges, demands the release on bail of the five and reaffirms the rights and fundamental freedoms of peaceful human rights defenders to conduct their activities free from threats and punishment. We further call for the judicial investigation to be conducted impartially and call for an end to executive interference in the judiciary.
This statement is endorsed by:
- Alliance for Conflict Transformation (ACT)
- Boeung Kak Community
- Boeung Trabek Community
- Borei Keila Community
- Beung Pram Land Community
- Building and Wood Workers Trade Union (BWTUC)
- Building Community Voice (BCV)
- CamASEAN Youth
- Cambodia Development People Life Association
- Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU)
- Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
- Cambodian Domestic Workers Network (CDWN)
- Cambodian Food and Service Workers’ Federation (CFSWF)
- Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC)
- Cambodian Independent Civil-Servants Association (CICA)
- Cambodian Independent Teachers Association (CITA)
- Cambodian Informal Economic Workers Association (CIWA)
- Cambodian Labour Confederation (CLC)
- Cambodian League for the Promotion & Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
- Cambodian NGO Committee on CEDAW (NGO-CEDAW)
- Cambodian Tourism and Service Workers Federation (CTSWF)
- Cambodian Youth Network (CYN)
- Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL)
- Christians for Social Justice
- Coalition for Integrity & Social Accountability (CISA)
- Coalition of Cambodian farmer Community (CCFC)
- Community Legal Education Center (CLEC)
- Community Peace-Building Network (CPN)
- Equitable Cambodia
- FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
- Former Boeung Kak Women Network Community
- Forum Asia
- Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC)
- Housing Rights Task Force (HRTF)
- Independent Democratic Association of Informal Economic (IDEA)
- Independent Monk Network for Social Justice (IMNSJ)
- Indigenous Youth at Brome Commune, Preah Vihear Province
- Indradevi Association (IDA)
- Land Community, I Village Preah Sihanouk Province
- Land Community, Prek Chik Village, Koh Kong Province
- LICADHO Canada
- Lor Peang community, Kampong Chhnang Province
- Mother Nature
- Peace Bridges Organization (PBO)
- Phnom Bat Community
- Phum 23 Community
- Ponlok Khmer
- Prek Takung Community
- Prek Tanou Community
- Samakum Teang Tnaut (STT)
- SOS International AirPort Community
- Strey Khmer
- Thmor Kol Community (TK)
- Toul Sangke B Community
- Tumnop II Community
- Urban Poor Women Development
- Wat Than Monk Network
- World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
- Youth Resource Development Program (YRDP)
On 28 April 2016, 27 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) had already signed a joint statement calling on the authorities to cease harassment of human rights defenders [http://www.transparency.org/news/pressrelease/transparency_international_calls_on_the_cambodian_authorities_to_stop_haras]
For earlier posts on Cambodia: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/cambodia/
Six environmental activists from around the world received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize at a ceremony in San Francisco on 18 April 2016. This prize does not always go to human rights defenders in the traditional sense of the word, but several well-known ones are among the recipients such as the recently killed Berta Carceres [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/03/07/exceptional-response-from-ngo-world-on-killing-of-berta-caceres/]. This year’s winners are: Read the rest of this entry »
International human rights day is an occasion for a multitude of local activities, some denouncing violations others quietly remembering, some (trying to) march in the streets, others issuing statements. This anthology of 10 such events is far from complete but gives an idea of the variety, from human rights defenders speaking out to governmental institutions ‘celebrating’ …. Read the rest of this entry »
In a few recent posts I drew attention to the trend of shrinking space for NGOs in countries such as Russia, Kyrgyzstan and Cambodia [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/draft-laws-on-civil-society-restrictions-also-pending-in-kyrgyzstan-and-cambodia/]. On 9 May 2015, The Economist’s column on Asia (Banyan) was devoted to the same issue, concluding that “Democratic Asian governments as well as authoritarian ones crack down on NGOs“. Under title “Who’s afraid of the activists?” it mentions China, Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
It lists the usual ‘complaints’ that both authoritarian and democratic leaders use against the activities of NGOs, which range from:
- threats to national sovereignty
- promotion of ‘Western’ values
- hidden agenda (such as conversion to Christianity)
- blocking development through environmental objections.
E.g. the Indian home ministry claims that 13 billion $ in foreign money has gone to local charities over the past decade and that 13 of the top 15 donors were Christian outfits. Interestingly, similar complaints come from the biggest Indian NGO, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which itself has “strong foreign links, draws on an Indian diaspora in America and elsewhere for support, and dishes out help across borders, such as in Nepal following last month’s earthquake”.
Quite rightly the article concludes that in the long run, such limitations only rally political opponents, while (local) NGOs may face close scrutiny themselves one day (when the Government has changed hands): “Battering-rams, after all, have two ends.”