Kingdom of Cambodia
Head of state King Norodom Sihamoni
Head of government Hun Sen
Respect for freedom of expression, association and assembly deteriorated. The authorities increasingly used excessive force against peaceful protesters. Human rights defenders faced threats, harassment, legal action and violence. Forced evictions, land disputes and land grabbing continued to affect thousands of people. Impunity for perpetrators of human rights abuses and a non-independent judiciary remained major problems, with flawed or no investigations into killings and shootings. Judicial investigations at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia stalled as allegations of government interference persisted.
The ruling Cambodian People’s Party won the majority of seats in the commune elections held in June. Two opposition parties merged to form the Cambodian National Rescue Party ahead of national elections in July 2013, but its leader Sam Rainsy remained abroad to avoid serving a prison sentence for politically motivated convictions. The Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Cambodia issued two highly critical reports following his May visit: one on the electoral system, and the other on the impact of Economic Land Concessions on the human rights of affected communities. Cambodia chaired ASEAN, which in November adopted the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, despite serious concerns that it fell short of international standards. King Father Norodom Sihanouk died in October, aged 89.
Excessive use of force
Protests by communities over land and housing rights and by trade union activists were met with increasing violence. In January, security guards opened fire on peaceful protesters in Kratie province, injuring four people. The governor of Bavet town in Svay Rieng province shot three women during a protest over working conditions in February. A 14-year-old girl was shot dead in Kratie in May as security forces entered her village to carry out a forced eviction of 600 families. A union activist was beaten and detained by police after a group of workers submitted a petition to the Prime Minister’s office in July. No adequate investigation was carried out into any of these incidents.
Impunity for attacks against human rights defenders persisted.
- In December, the Appeal Court upheld the 20-year sentences of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun who were wrongly convicted for the killing of trade union leader Chea Vichea in 2004 despite lack of evidence and credible alibis. The killers of Chea Vichea remained free.
- Chut Wutty, a well-known environment activist and Director of the Natural Resource Protection Group, a Cambodian NGO that campaigns against the destruction of the country’s forests, was shot dead by a military police officer in Koh Kong province in April. The officer who reportedly shot him was also killed in the incident. The government investigation and subsequent court case were flawed and inadequate. In October, Koh Kong provincial court dropped the investigation into Wutty’s death.
Freedom of expression – human rights defenders
The authorities harassed and threatened to arrest and take legal action against human rights workers and members of communities resisting forced eviction. Workers with the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association and the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, and a Radio Free Asia reporter, were summoned for court questioning after carrying out their legitimate activities in different land-related cases. In March and November, the authorities used intimidation and harassment to disrupt and prevent civil society associations and grassroots networks, including local and regional NGOs, from holding workshops and events around the ASEAN summits on a range of human rights issues.
- In May, 13 women from the Boeung Kak Lake community in Phnom Penh were arrested and sentenced to two and a half years in prison after a summary trial. The women had held a peaceful protest to support 18 local families whose homes were destroyed in forced evictions. They were charged with illegal occupancy of public property and obstruction of public officials with aggravating circumstances. They were released on appeal in June, with their sentences suspended. Another woman activist, Yorm Bopha, was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment on fabricated charges in December.
- Prominent journalist and government critic Mam Sonando, aged 71, was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment in October for anti-state offences, including instigating “insurrection” in Kratie province. The charges were believed to be politically motivated, and no evidence warranting a conviction was presented at the trial. He was a prisoner of conscience.
The crisis over land continued, with forced evictions, land disputes and land-grabbing affecting thousands of people and resulting in a rise in protests. In May, the government announced a moratorium on granting Economic Land Concessions (ELCs), and a review of existing ELCs to ensure that they conformed with existing regulations. Several ELCs were granted after the moratorium. In June, the Prime Minister launched a project to allocate land titles to people living inside state forests, and economic and other land concessions. Thousands of student volunteers were tasked with mapping land and collecting information on occupancy.
- In a violent forced eviction in January, the homes of around 300 families living in Borei Keila, central Phnom Penh, were destroyed by construction workers from a development company. Security forces used tear gas and rubber bullets against the residents, and rocks, logs and bottles were thrown during clashes. More than 64 people were reportedly injured, and eight people arrested. The evictees were taken to two relocation sites outside Phnom Penh with no adequate sanitation, housing or work opportunities. Some 125 families refused to go, and remained in squalid conditions near their former homes.
Investigations into Cases 003 and 004 were stalled amidst allegations of government interference in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). The Supreme Council of Magistracy rejected the appointment of reserve Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet as International Co-Investigating Judge in January, despite his nomination by the UN. He resigned, effective early May, citing obstruction by his Cambodian counterpart. US Judge Mark Harmon replaced him in October, but no progress in the two cases was reported. Lack of funding resulted in the trial hearings in Case 002 being reduced to three days a week. Ieng Thirith, one of four alleged senior Khmer Rouge leaders on trial in Case 002, was declared unfit to stand trial and released into the care of her family in September. She was believed to have Alzheimer’s disease.
- In February, the Supreme Court Chamber at the ECCC upheld the conviction of prison chief Kaing Guek Euv, known as Duch, for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and increased his sentence from 35 years to life in prison. The Court also overturned an earlier decision to grant a legal remedy to Duch for his illegal detention for eight years by the Cambodian military court.
Amnesty International visits/reports
- Amnesty International delegates visited Cambodia in February to April, August/September and November/December.
- Cambodia: Imprisoned for speaking out – update on Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak Lake (ASA 23/010/2012)
- Summit leaders should push Cambodia on human rights failures (ASA 23/019/2012)
- Cambodia: Convictions of activists demonstrate dire state of justice (PRE01/633/2012)