Re: Threats against human rights defenders

Re: Threats against human rights defenders

To: H.E. Hun Sen, et al.

From: Gail Davidson, Executive Director, LRWC

Date: 2011-09-09

LRWC is concerned about recent threats to human rights defenders who have been expressing concerns about violations of citizens’ land rights in several parts of the country. We are concerned about reports of violations of international human rights committed by government officials against the following civil society organizations and human rights defenders, all of whom were apparently engaged in internationally legitimized work promoting and advocating protection of rights.

Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT): In July 2011, STT published a report finding that the compensation offered by the government to households affected by a government railway project and slated for resettlement was too low. On 2 August 2011 STT was informed that its registration as an NGO was suspended for five months for reasons that seem to have no basis in Cambodian law.

NGO Forum: On 21 August, NGO Forum, a coalition of non-governmental organizations reportedly received a written warning from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to “readjust” their work after they wrote a letter to the Asian Development Bank in 2010 warning of dangerous construction in a railway rehabilitation project. Similarly, the Housing Rights Task Force and Bridges Across Borders were reportedly warned to adjust their methods of working with Cambodians whose land rights are threatened by development. These communications appear to be aimed at discouraging these organizations from drawing attention to violations of land rights.

ADHOC: Two ADHOC staff members, Mr. Pen Bonna and Chay Thy, along with a journalist from Radio Free Asia, Ratha Visal, have been summoned to appear in Ratanakkiri provincial court on 19 September for investigation of incitement charges as a result of comments made in a 2009 news broadcast. They had been conducting human rights education and advocacy in Ratanakkiri province to assist villagers to understand their legal right to oppose violations of their land rights.

Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and Natural Resource Protection Group (NRPG): On 7 September 2011, approximately 30 district and commune police in Kompong Thom, reportedly armed with AK47 weapons, are said to have prevented CCHR and NRPG from conducting training of local community members in human rights and law to assist them to peacefully assert their threatened land rights. Authorities reportedly also claimed that CCHR and NRPG have failed to satisfy notification requirements that do not exist in law. Villagers have also reportedly been threatened by authorities.

These are very serious allegations. LRWC is gravely concerned about the increasingly strong pattern of administrative and judicial harassment to silence critics of land development projects. LRWC reminds your government that Cambodia has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which, in Article 19(2), provides the right to freedom of expression as does Cambodia’s Constitution. The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders states in Article 18(3) that individuals and non-governmental organizations have both a right and a responsibility to promote international human rights. Article 6 provides the responsibility of human rights defenders to draw public attention to human rights concerns.

Article 12 articulates the responsibility of Cambodia and other States to ensure “the protection of human rights defenders from threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights” to conduct their human rights work.

We urge in the strongest terms that your government take immediate steps to ensure that all public officials are made aware of their responsibilities to adhere to international human rights law binding on Cambodia, and immediately cease and desist from any and all actions designed to silence or intimidate human rights organizations and civil society groups from conducting advocacy and education to enhance the implementation and enforcement of human rights in Cambodia.