Arbitrary restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly continued. A law came into force severely threatening the right to freedom of association. Impunity continued for human rights violations in the policing of demonstrations in 2013 and 2014, including deaths resulting from the unnecessary and excessive use of force. Political activists and human rights defenders were jailed and arrests for online activity increased. Flagrant violations of the UN Refugee Convention, including refoulements, took place.
Prime Minister Hun Sen succeeded the long-serving president of the ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP), Chea Sim, who died in June.
Political tensions continued between the CPP and the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), despite the two respective leaders announcing a “culture of dialogue” in April. Negotiations between the two parties led to an agreement on a new Law on the National Election Committee, amendments to the Law on the Election of Members of the National Assembly, and the release of imprisoned political activists and human rights defenders in April. The legal changes were widely criticized for restricting freedom of expression. In July, political tensions between the two parties re-escalated over an opposition campaign on alleged Vietnamese border encroachment.
In November, an arrest warrant was issued for CNRP leader Sam Rainsy for a 2011 conviction for defamation and incitement to discrimination. He received a two-year prison sentence that was never enforced. In December, Sam Rainsy was summonsed on charges of being an accomplice in a forgery case against opposition Senator Hong Sok Hour.
The mandates of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia and the local UN Human Rights Commissioner office were both renewed for two years. The UN provided assistance in drafting an Access to Information Law. The National Police announced that a law on state secrets was being drafted.
The expression of anti-Vietnamese sentiment remained prevalent, with CNRP leaders continuing to use the term yuon, widely considered derogatory.
In September, the General Department of Immigration stated that it had deported 1,919 illegal migrant workers, 90% of whom were Vietnamese.
Local human rights groups continued to receive complaints about new land disputes affecting thousands of families and involving well-connected military and political figures.
Freedom of assembly
In April, 10 women land activists, arrested and convicted in November 2014 for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of assembly, were released after being pardoned by the King. Nine others – five CNRP activists, three monks and one woman whose family were involved in a land dispute – were released on bail. The releases were part of the dialogue reached between the CPP and CNRP.
In July, 11 CNRP officials and members were convicted of leading and participating in an insurrection and sentenced to between seven and 20 years’ imprisonment. The charges arose from a demonstration in July 2014 that resulted in clashes between security forces and opposition supporters. The convictions were not supported by evidence to link the 11 to the insurrection allegations. Charges also remained in place against seven opposition MPs arrested and released in the aftermath of the demonstration. One of those convicted, Ouk Pich Samnang, was sentenced to an additional two years’ imprisonment on charges arising from a separate demonstration in October 2014 when he was violently attacked by security forces.
In August, three activists from conservation NGO Mother Nature – Try Sovikea, Sun Mala and Sim Samnang – were arrested amid a campaign to prevent alleged illegal sand dredging in Koh Kong province. The three men faced two years in prison if convicted on allegations that they threatened to destroy a dredging vessel. In October, Vein Vorn, a community representative in Koh Kong, was arrested on charges related to his peaceful activism against a major dam project. In August, two monks, Dev Tep and Chea Vanda, who had participated in several demonstrations since the 2013 election, including opposition-led demonstrations concerning alleged border encroachment by Viet Nam, were defrocked and arrested on charges of drug possession, forgery and making death threats, which they claimed were fabricated.
No one was held to account for a range of violations by security forces in the course of a violent crackdown on freedom of peaceful assembly over 2013 and 2014, including at least six killings resulting from the unnecessary or excessive use of force during that period.1 Despite announcing official investigations in the wake of those events, no findings were published into the crackdown that resulted in serious injuries to scores of people and the enforced disappearance of 16-year-old Khem Saphath.
In August, former governor of Bavet city in Svay Rieng province, Chhouk Bandith (who was convicted in his absence and sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment in June 2013 on minor charges for shooting into a crowd of demonstrating workers in 2012 and injuring three women) turned himself in after the Prime Minister called for his arrest.
Freedom of association
In August, King Sihamoni signed into law the controversial Law on Associations and Non-Government Organizations (LANGO) despite a sustained campaign by civil society for the law to be dropped on the grounds that it violates the right to freedom of association. By the end of the year, it remained unclear how the law would be implemented.
Tripartite discussions involving the government, unions and employers’ representatives on a controversial draft Trade Union Law continued behind closed doors with government representatives refusing to publish newer versions of the draft.
Freedom of expression
A year after the creation of a “Cyber War Team” within the Council of Ministers whose function was to “investigate, collect, analyze and compile all forms of … news [and] to inform the public with the aim to protect the government’s stance and prestige”, there was an upsurge in criminal charges for online expression.
In August, opposition Senator Hong Sok Hour was arrested on forgery and incitement charges for posting a video online which included an edited article from a 1979 treaty between Cambodia and Viet Nam concerning the shared border. Days later, a student was arrested on incitement charges after stating on Facebook that he planned to initiate a “colour revolution” at an unspecified date in the future. Both men were held in detention despite a presumption in the Criminal Procedure Code in favour of bail.
In December, further arrest warrants were issued in the Hong Sok Hour case for CNRP leader Sam Rainsy and two men responsible for his Facebook page, Sathya Sambath and Ung Chung Leang. All three men went into self-imposed exile.
A draft Cybercrimes Law leaked to the public in 2014, which included a series of provisions that would criminalize online expression, remained pending.
In July, Ny Chakrya, head of monitoring for the Cambodia Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC, the oldest human rights organization in Cambodia), was summoned for questioning on a series of charges arising from comments he made about judicial conduct in a case involving the arrest of villagers engaged in a land dispute.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
In violation of the UN Refugee Convention and international human rights law, Cambodia forcibly returned 45 minority ethnic Jarai asylum-seekers to Viet Nam in February. At least 36 other Montagnards – a term used loosely to refer to mostly Christian indigenous minority groups in Viet Nam – were also returned over the course of the year after Cambodia refused to register their asylum claims.2
In June, four refugees arrived in Cambodia from Nauru as part of a A$40 million (US$28 million) deal with Australia, which is counter to the object and purpose of the Refugee Convention.
Two years after he was last seen in January 2014 with an apparent gunshot wound to his chest at a demonstration on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, the fate or whereabouts of 16-year-old Khem Saphath remained unclarified.
In September, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC, Khmer Rouge tribunal) heard for the first time evidence on charges of genocide in the second case against Nuon Chea, former second-in-command of the Khmer Rouge, and Khieu Samphan, former head of state.
- Taking to the streets: Freedom of peaceful assembly in Cambodia (ASA 23/1506/2015)
- Cambodia: Refoulement and the question of “voluntariness” (ASA 23/2157/2015)