TLHRC Co-Chairs Call on Cambodia to Honor Human Rights Committments
As Co-Chairs of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, we are deeply concerned about recent events in Cambodia that raise serious questions about the government’s commitment to human rights.
The Cambodian legislature recently adopted a Law on Associations and NGOs which falls significantly short of international human rights standards governing the right to freedom of association. The law, passed in spite of protests by hundreds of people and still subject to Constitutional Council review, would allow the Government to deny registration on ill-defined bases, including if the purpose and goal of the association is perceived to “endanger the security, stability and public order or jeopardize national security, national unity, culture, traditions, and customs of Cambodian national society.” Such provisions are in breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which Cambodia has ratified and which is recognized in the country’s constitution, and, in combination with criminal penalties against NGOs that operate without registration, will have a chilling effect on civil society organizations, if implemented. The existence of a free and independent civil society in Cambodia and the crucial work that NGOs in the country carry out on development, governance, and human rights will be at risk.
Also recently, eleven Cambodian opposition activists, known as the Freedom Park 11, were convicted and sentenced to between seven and twenty years’ imprisonment for participating or leading an “insurrection”, following a protest that turned violent on 15 July 2014. According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which monitored the trial, there were irregularities such as the use of statements by witnesses not available for cross examination, and the absence of evidence that the defendants directly committed any acts of violence. An independent investigation by Human Rights Watch found no basis to the accusations. As the UNHCHR noted, the perception of governmental interference in this case undermines public trust in the Cambodian justice system.
Cambodia has a long and brutal history of human rights violations. Prime Minister Hun Sen has been in power more than 30 years. His regime’s ongoing repression of those exercising their legitimate and universally protected rights of free speech and freedom of association is of continuing concern to the Commission. We call on the government of Cambodia to honor its international and constitutional human rights obligations by setting aside the unduly harsh and politically motivated convictions of the Freedom Park 11, and by withdrawing the Law on Associations and NGOs.