Cambodia: Escalation of Serious Human Rights Violations by Government Authorities | Letter

H.E. Hun Sen
Prime Minister
Office of the Prime Minister
Phnom Penh,Kingdom of Cambodia
Fax: +855 23 36 06 66 / 855 23 88 06 24
(c/o Council of Ministers)

H.E. Sok An
Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman,
Council for Legal and Judicial Reform
Council of Ministers
Nº. 38, Confederation de la Russie 12209
Fax: +855-23-880-628, +855-23-880-635, +855-23-212-490

H.E. Sar Kheng
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior
Ministry of Interior,
275 Norodom Blvd,
Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia
Fax: + 855 23 212708. Email:

H.E. Ang Vong Vathna
Minister of Justice
No 240,Sothearos Blvd.
Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia
Fax: 023 364119.

H.E. Hor Nam Hong
Minister of Foreign Affairs
161 Preah Sisowath Quay
Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia
Fax: + 855 23 21 61 44 / + 855 23 21 69 39.

Your Excellencies: 

Re: Escalation of Serious Human Rights Violations by Government Authorities

I am writing on behalf of Lawyers Rights Watch Canada (LRWC), a committee of Canadian lawyers who promote human rights and the rule of law internationally. LRWC also provides support to lawyers and other human rights defenders in danger because of their advocacy.

LRWC is alarmed by the recent escalation of threats and violence against human rights defenders, including community activists, who have been protesting violations of individual or communal land rights in several parts of Cambodia. We are appalled by the increase of serious and violent breaches of Cambodia’s international human rights obligations by government officials against community-based activists legitimately and peacefully working to protect their land rights. For example, government authorities are alleged to have been involved in:

  • forcible eviction of people from their homes, destruction of property, and taking land without fair and timely compensation;
  • violence against community representatives and human rights activists involved in peaceful assemblies, including extra-judicial killings, serious injuries, torture and violations of human dignity;
  • arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of community representatives.

The Royal Government of Cambodia (RCG) has failed to conduct thorough investigations into these human rights violations. In a number of land disputes, RCG armed forces have reportedly protected interests of business corporations at the expense of the interests and needs of community members. Armed police and military officials have failed to abide by Cambodian laws in carrying out their duties. Court officials, apparently acting on directives of the executive branch of the RCG, have initiated illegitimate legal proceedings that have resulted in convictions being entered and sentenced imposed in the absence of independent investigations, fair trials before an independent and impartial tribunal, and adequate legal representation.

We draw to your attention the following examples:

  • 22-24 May 2012: violations of human rights in Boeung Kak Lake Protests
    • 22 May 2012: Fifteen representatives of Boeung Kak Lake community were arrested during a peaceful assembly of about 80 people protesting the recent expropriation by Shukaku Inc Co. Ltd (Shukaku) of land plots of 18 families. The protest included songs and speeches and an attempt by some protestors to demarcate the boundaries of their demolished homes. To date, authorities have failed to answer community requests for demarcation of the area included in an August 2011 decree that granted existing residents 12.44 hectares of land. While more than 600 families have been granted land titles to replace land allotted to Shukaku, a number of families are still waiting.
    • 24 May 2012: The Venerable Loun Sovath, a monk and human rights activist, was forcibly detained while attending a peaceful gathering of Boeung Kak Lake villagers in front of the Phnom Penh Court where they had assembled to support the 13 Boeung Kak women who had been detained without charges since 22 May and were being questioned inside the Court. On apparent instructions of religious authorities, a number of persons in plain clothes, assisted by police, forcibly took Ven. Loun Sovath and physically pushed him into a vehicle by which he was driven to Wat Botum, a Phnom Penh temple, where he was reportedly questioned over his activism by religious leaders. Police and officials from the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Cults and Religion barricaded him inside the Wat and barred entry to the temple complex to journalists and resident students (“pagoda boys”) who showed identification. LRWC is aware of no official investigation of this detention of Ven. Loun Sovath.
    • 24 May 2012: Two additional Boeung Kak Lake representatives, Ms. Ly Channary and Mr. Say Sareoun, were reportedly arrested outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court at 2:00 pm and taken to Phnom Penh Police Station where, as of 25 May, they were reportedly being held without charge.
    • 24 May 2012: Thirteen of the female Boeung Kak Lake protesters were sentenced to prison terms, after a three-hour proceedings without benefit of legal counsel, on charges of inciting others to take land illegally (Article 504 of the Penal Code) and obtaining land illegally (Articles 34 and 259 of the Land Law Act). The women’s lawyer, Mr. Ham Sunrith, had walked out of the courtroom after the judge refused to postpone the trial so that defence witnesses could be called. The women had been charged on the day of the proceedings after questioning during the morning by prosecutors and after being detained without charge for approximately 48 hours. All the women were sentenced to two years and six months each in jail (Nget Khun; Tep Vanny; Kong Chantha; Srong Srey Leap; Tho Davy; Chan Navy; Ngoun Kimlang; Pao Saopea; Cheng Leap; Soung Samai; Phan Chan Reth; Heng Mom and Toul Srey Pov). Six of the women had a portion of their sentences suspended. The women were taken to Prey Sar prison. We understand that these community representatives have launched appeals.
  • 16 May 2012: shooting death of a child and torture of villagers during a forced eviction in Kampong Damrei commune, Chhlong district, Kratie province
    • Heng Chantha, a 14 year old girl, was shot to death by armed forces during a 16 May forcible eviction of a people in village in Pro Ma village, Kampong Damrei commune, Chhlong district, Kratie province. Villagers are involved in a land dispute with a company called Casotim, a rubber company that has been granted a 15,000-hectare economic land concession near the village. The forcible eviction was reportedly ordered by the Ministry of Interior and the provincial governor. On 16 May, members of the community were reportedly rounded up by up to 1,000 military and police officers who put the villagers into groups, then began firing towards them. Military police and police also reportedly forced men and women, including pregnant women, to strip naked and stand handcuffed in the sun for several hours. No authorities have taken responsibility for the shooting and no proper investigation has been initiated. However, eight protesters were reportedly arrested and jailed.
  • 26 April 2012: shooting death of environmental activist Mr. Chut Wutty
    • Mr. Chut Wutty (also known as Chhut Vuthy), an environmentalist and human rights defender, and President of the Natural Resource Protection Group, was shot dead by authorities on 26 April 2012 as he accompanied two Cambodia Daily reporters on a visit to investigate and document illegal logging practices in Koh Kong province. At one point during the incident, the two reporters witnessing events leading up to the shooting reportedly considered themselves at risk of being murdered by authorities on the scene. While an arrest has been made in the murder of Chut Wutty, there is no indication that authorities have conducted a proper and impartial investigation of the events. Prime Minister Hun Sen reportedly ordered an investigation on 2 May 2012 that terminated on 4 May 2012 with a charge of unintentional killing against Mr. Ran Boroth, a security guard for the Timbergreen company, which has a license to clear the reservoirs for a dam project near the place of the shooting death.
  • 20 February 2012: Shooting injuries of demonstrators in Svay Rieng Province
    • Three garment factory workers were shot and injured on 20 February in Bavet city, Svay Rieng Province, after a former governor of Bavet city, Mr. Chhouk Bandith, reportedly opened fire on protestors during a demonstration over labour conditions. It was alleged during March, 2011, that government officials tried to persuade the families of the women to drop their complaints by offering them up to $1,000 or a motorcycle. Mr. Chhouk Bandith, now a government official within the provincial administration, was reportedly charged on April 19, 2012 with “causing injury without intent” and summoned to court on 27 May 2012 to “clarify” circumstances of the charges. LRWC has no information that he has yet been arrested.
  • 18 January 2012: shooting injuries of peaceful protestors in Snuol district, Kratie province
    • Military personnel acting as security guards for TTY Co. Ltd. (TTY), on 18 January opened fire with an AK-47 into a  group of several hundred peaceful protestors demanding resolution of their land dispute with the TTY in Snuol district, Kratie province. Three men and one woman were injured. Two rubber plantation security guards were reportedly summoned to the Court for questioning on 30 January 2012 on possible weapons charges. On 7 February it was reported that two men, Ke Sovanna, 40, and Pin Kimleng, 26, were charged with the illegal use of weapons after Prime Minister Hun Sen said he wanted the men arrested.

These incidents are part of an escalating pattern of attacks against community activists and other human rights defenders alleged by or with the complicity of agents of the RGC.

LRWC reminds your government of its obligations as a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Policital Rights (ICCPR) of the duty to ensure:

  • Fair and impartial trial standards (ICCPR Article 14): The trials of 13 women protestors on 24 May failed to meet even basic international standards for trials. Article 14 states that “all persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals [and] shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal.” The women were not afforded time for their lawyer to prepare a defence (ICCPR Article 14(3) (b)). Article 21 of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers requires states to ensure that defendants receive full disclosure of the charges and evidence against them: “It is the duty of the competent authorities to ensure lawyers access to appropriate information, files and documents in their possession or control in sufficient time to enable lawyers to provide effective legal assistance to their clients.” The defendants were also denied the right to call and examine witnesses on their behalf as guaranteed by Article 14(3) (e) of the ICCPR which states that each defendant in a criminal case has the right to “examine, or have examined, the witnesses against him [or her] and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him [or her].”
  • Freedom of expression and assembly (ICCPR Articles 19 and 21): The arrests, violence and extra-judicial killings of human rights defenders and peaceful demonstrators cases referred to in this letter constitute violations of the ICCPR. The violations must be investigated and remedied.

Cambodia has also ratified the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), which obliges Cambodia to prevent and punish torture committed or allowed by authorities. The acts allegedly committed by officials against persons in Pro Ma village in holding them hostage at gun point, spraying assembled groups with bullets, having men and women stand hand-cuffed and naked in the sun for hours constitute torture as defined in Article 1 of the CAT. Your government has a duty to investigate and prosecute all those responsible for such atrocities.

LRWC urges your government to:

  • facilitate an urgent Court review of the cases of the Boeung Kak community representatives convicted and sentenced to prison sentences in the improper proceedings that took place on 24 May 2012; ensure their immediate release from prison pending the appeal; withdraw the unfounded charges, and ensure a remedy for the violations of their rights.
  • conduct an independent and impartial investigation and provide an appropriate remedy to Ven. Loun Sovath for the violation of his rights on May 24.
  • ensure that in future no authorities arrest or commit violence against those involved in peaceful assembly or the expression of their rights.
  • ensure that all persons using unauthorized force or committing violence or torture against community activists, human rights defenders or any other individuals are brought to justice in accordance with the principles and standards of international human rights.
  • ensure fair trial rights for all persons in Cambodia, including for community activists and human rights defenders.
  • ensure the safety of all people advocating for the land and resource use rights of Cambodian individuals and communities.

For many years, concerns have been expressed by civil society leaders and United Nations representatives about the lack of independence, impartiality and integrity of all Cambodian courts. We ask your government to cooperate with the efforts of human rights groups and the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia in fostering adherence to and implementation of all human rights treaties and other international human rights law binding on Cambodia.

All the cases noted in this letter involve attacks on advocates protesting the illegal and/or unjust dispossession of, or encroachment by development projects on community members’ lands. LRWC welcomes the Prime Minister’s announcement in early May of an immediate moratorium on the granting of new economic land concessions and a review of all existing concessions. We urge your government to ensure that that the promised reviews of existing concessions, and the granting of further concessions are conducted in public, provide for submissions from all Cambodian stakeholders, and are in accordance with applicable human rights and environmental protection laws..

Yours sincerely,


Gail Davidson
Executive Director
Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada


H.E. Om Yentieng
President, Cambodian Human Rights Committee
Office of the Prime Minister
Phnom Penh, KingdomofCambodia
Fax: +855 12 81 37 81 / +855 23 21 11 62 or +855 23 88 10 45 (c/o Council of Ministers)


Ambassador Mr. Sun Suon
Permanent Mission of Cambodia to the United Nations in Geneva
Chemin de Taverney 3
Case postale 213
1218 Grand-Saconnex, Switzerland
Fax: + 41 22 788 77 74.


Mr. Surya Prasad Subedi
UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia c/o Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights/Cambodia
N_ 10, Street 302, Sangkat Boeng Keng Kang I, Khan Chamcar Mon
P.O. Box108
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Fax: (855) 23 212 579, 213 587, Email:


Mrs. Margaret Sekaggya
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
c/o Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais Wilson United Nations Office at Geneva
CH 1211 Geneva 10 Switzerland
Fax: +41(0) 22.917.90.06, email:


Gabriela Carina Knaul de Albuquerque e Silva
Special Rapporteur of the Human Council on the independence of judges and lawyers
c/o Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office at Geneva
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneva 10 Switzerland
Fax: +41 22 917 9006; e-mail:


Mr. Maina Kiai
Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
c/o Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais Wilson United Nations Office at Geneva
CH 1211 Geneva 10 Switzerland
Fax: +41(0) 22.917.90.06, email:


Mr. Frank La Rue
Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and        expression
Palais des Nations
1211 Geneva 10 Switzerland
Fax: +41 22 917 9006, Email:


Mr. Juan Mendez
Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
c/o Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office at Geneva
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneva 10 Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 917 9006; email:


Mr. Christof Heyns
Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions
c/o Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office at Geneva
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneva10 Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 917 9006, email:


Mr. El Hadji Malick Sow

Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
c/o Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office at Geneva
8-14, avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Fax: +41 22 9179006, e-mail: wgad@ohchr.orgOffice of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
No. 10, Street 302,P.O. Box108,
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Fax: (855) 23 212 579; E-mail:


Ambassador Ron Hoffmann
Embassy of Canada
P.O. Box2090
Bangkok 10501,Thailand
Fax: 66 (0) 2636-0566; email:,