Annual Report: Cambodia 2011

May 28, 2011

Annual Report: Cambodia 2011

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Head of state: King Norodom Sihamoni
Head of government: Hun Sen
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
Population: 15.1 million
Life expectancy: 62.2 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 92/85 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 77 per cent

Forced evictions, land grabs and land disputes remained among the most serious human rights issues. Protests by affected families and communities increased. Activists and human rights defenders protecting the right to adequate housing faced legal action and imprisonment on spurious charges. The judiciary and the courts continued to lack independence and were used to stifle freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly; journalists, trade unionists and opposition politicians were targeted. Impunity for human rights violations remained an overriding concern. Kaing Guek Eav, aka Duch, was the first defendant to be convicted by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) for crimes against humanity committed during the Khmer Rouge period.


The authorities accepted all 91 recommendations made by UN member states under the Universal Periodic Review in March to improve human rights, including on measures to combat impunity, forced evictions and involuntary relocation and to reform the judiciary.

In June, a visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia focused on the judiciary, which he described as lacking independence and the capacity to deliver justice to all.

A new Penal Code came into force in December which included controversial provisions that limited freedom of expression.

Forced evictions

Thousands of people around the country, including Indigenous populations, were adversely affected by forced evictions, land grabs and land disputes, some in connection with economic land concessions granted to powerful companies and individuals. Increasing numbers of individuals and communities protested and petitioned the authorities in defence of their rights to adequate housing.

In May the authorities approved a Circular on "temporary settlements on illegally occupied land", aimed at relocating long-standing communities, some with legal tenure, from the capital, Phnom Penh and other urban areas.

  • The forced eviction of 20,000 people living around Boeung Kak Lake in Phnom Penh gathered pace as the private company developing the site filled the lake with sand. Homes were flooded and belongings destroyed by water displaced by the sand. Company representatives intimidated and harassed villagers in attempts to force them to accept inadequate compensation or resettlement, despite many of them having legal tenure under the 2001 Land Law. Police harassed activists protesting the forced eviction.
  • Police used unnecessary force, including electric batons, to break up a peaceful protest by Boeung Kak Lake villagers during the visit of the UN Secretary-General in October. Suong Sophorn was beaten unconscious and detained by police until the departure of the Secretary-General. He had previously been arrested and fined in 2009 for painting "Stop Eviction" on his house.

International justice

In a landmark decision in July, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) convicted Kaing Guek Eav (known as Duch) for crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions for his role in mass executions, torture and other crimes during the Khmer Rouge period. Duch was the commander of security prison S-21, where at least 14,000 people were tortured and killed. He was sentenced to 35 years' imprisonment, reduced by 16 years for time served and illegal detention. Both the prosecution and defence appealed against the sentence.