Re: Kem Sokha, Yeng Virak, Pa Nguon Teang and others

Re: Kem Sokha, Yeng Virak, Pa Nguon Teang and others, human rights defenders

To: H.E. Samdech Hun Sen, Prime Minister and others

From: Gail Davidson, Director, LRWC

Date: 2006-01-04

We are writing to express our strong concern about recent arrests and charges against leaders of human rights and legal organizations, journalists, union leaders, civil society representatives and politicians. The most recent arrests involve Mr. Kem Sokha, the Director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) Mr. Yeng Virak, director of the Community Legal Education Center and Mr. Pa Nguon Teang, Vice-director of the CCHR. Mr. Kem Sokha, and Mr. Yeng Virak were arrested on December 31, 2005, and charged under article 63 of the Provisions Relating to the Judiciary and Criminal Law and Procedure Applicable in Cambodia during the Transitional Period (UNTAC law). We understand that Mr. Kem Sokha and Mr. Yeng Virak are detained in Prey Sor prison. We are concerned about reports that their family members and lawyers were not permitted to visit them on January 1, 2006. We also understand that Mr. Pa Nguon Teang was arrested on January 4, 2006 and is detained at the Ministry of Interior in Phnom Penh, but we have no confirmation of the reason for this arrest.

The UNTAC law was enacted as a temporary measure during Cambodia’s transition to liberal democracy and before Cambodia adopted its Constitution and acceded to the major human rights conventions. The UN Special Representative, Mr. Yash Ghai, has expressed the opinion that articles 62 and 63 of the UNTAC law regarding criminal disinformation and defamation are not consistent with Cambodia’s Constitution or its international human rights commitments. We note that Mr. Ghai has suggested that your government repeal these outdated provisions of the UNTAC law. Civil defamation laws provide adequate protection for individuals and government officials to defend themselves from untrue accusations without inappropriately hindering legitimate public debate.

It appears to many observers that the UNTAC law and the courts are increasingly being used by government officials to suppress political dissent which is legitimate in a liberal democracy and protected under international human rights conventions to which Cambodia is a party. The right to freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 41 of your Constitution.

We call upon your government to ensure respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with your Constitution and international human rights conventions ratified by Cambodia, including the rights of Cambodians to freedom of expression and association without fear of harassment or imprisonment. We also draw to your attention the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by consensus of the General Assembly in 1998, which sets out standards to protect lawyers and human rights workers, and we urge you to put a stop to all harassment of human rights defenders and legal workers in Cambodia and to guarantee the independence of the courts and the bar from interference by government officials.

Above all, we appeal to you to ensure the physical and psychological wellbeing of Mr. Kem Sokha, Mr. Yeng Virak and Mr. Pa Nguon Teang, including guaranteeing their access to lawyers and any medical treatment they may need. We urge the release from prison and the withdrawal of charges against Mr. Kem Sokha, Mr. Yeng Virak. We also urge the release of Mr. Pa Nguon Teang, Vice-director of Cambodian Center for Human Rights, unless he is immediately charged with an international recognizable criminal offence. As we have indicated, Article 62 and 63 of the UNTAC law do not meet such international standards. We urge the withdrawal of all similar charges and the release of all others detained under criminal defamation charges including Mom Sonando and Rong Chhum.

LRWC respectfully requests your early response by mail, e-mail or fax to advise of your actions on the above mentioned matters. Thank you for your attention to these matters.