CAMBODIA – LICADHO addresses human rights issues to US government
4 November 2009 12:14 am

licadho-logo-bg.gifFORUM-ASIA
member LICADHO presented the human rights issues of Cambodia to the US
government's "Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission" on 10 September 2009.
The LICADHO President Chhiv Kek Pung addressed issues of freedom of expression, administration for justice and housing rights.
licadho-logo-bg.gifFORUM-ASIA
member LICADHO presented the human rights issues of Cambodia to the US
government's "Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission" on 10 September 2009.
The LICADHO President Chhiv Kek Pung addressed issues of freedom of expression, administration for justice and housing rights.

I wish to express my gratitude to the Tom Lantos Human Rights
Commission for assisting the Cambodian delegation to participate in
this important and timely hearing. Cambodia is currently facing a
crisis in human rights, which constitutes a backward slide in the
country's democratization and efforts to promote good governance. The
international community, including the United States, made a
significant contribution to bringing peace and the concept of democracy
to Cambodia in the early 1990s. Sadly, the hard-won steps which have
been made toward pluralistic democracy, and towards economic and social
development, are now in danger.

Today I would like to focus on some of the most pressing threats to
human rights: specifically, violations of land rights; restrictions on
freedom of expression; and Cambodia's fundamentally dysfunctional
justice system.

Freedom of expression

  • Freedom
    of _expression is at the core of any democracy. Attacks on freedom of
    _expression are not new in Cambodia, but they have intensified this
    year to the extent that LICADHO believes that the country is facing the
    gravest threat to its democratic development since the 1997 coup d'├ętat.
  • The
    ruling party has embarked on a campaign to crack down on freedom of
    _expression and suppress the parliamentary opposition, the news media,
    the legal profession and, to some extent, NGOs. At the center of the
    campaign is the government's misuse of the courts to file unjustified
    criminal charges against its critics.
  • Since April 2009, the
    government (or individual officials) has filed criminal complaints of
    defamation, disinformation or related charges against at least nine
    persons. So far, three of them have been convicted (and one
    imprisoned), two others have escaped criminal prosecution only by
    begging the Prime Minister's forgiveness, and the remainder still have
    charges pending against them.
  • The situation of the news media –
    which was already tightly-controlled, especially television and radio –
    has grown particularly dire. The pro-opposition print media is on the
    verge of extinction, with the editor of the last remaining
    major-circulation daily newspaper aligned to the opposition (Hang
    Chakra, of Khmer Machas Srok newspaper) serving a one-year prison
    sentence.
  • Moneaksekar Khmer, the other main pro-opposition
    newspaper, was recently closed by its editor-in-chief, Dam Sith, in
    return for the government withdrawing multiple lawsuits against him.
    Previously, shortly before the July 2008 elections in which he was an
    opposition candidate, Dam Sith had been briefly jailed by the
    government and one of his journalists, Khim Sambo, was assassinated.
    (Khim Sambo was the 10th journalist murdered in Cambodia since 1994 –
    not a single one of their killers has been brought to justice).
  • A
    third journalist, Neou Vannarin, of the well-respected, American-owned
    Cambodia Daily – one of the few truly independent newspapers in the
    country – is also facing a criminal charge. He is charged with
    defamation in the same case as opposition MP Ho Vann – for simply
    including a comment from the MP in an article.
  • The situation
    for freedom of _expression, especially for human rights defenders, may
    well grow even worse. The government is drafting several new laws which
    we fear will be repressive of civil society. One is a law to regulate
    national and international NGOs, as well as local associations. Ruling
    party officials have publicly stated that the law is intended for NGOs
    who "too freely speaking" and those which "rock the boat" by advocating
    on issues such as corruption and deforestation. They have also
    suggested that the law is somehow necessary to fight terrorism. Also
    pending is a new law on public demonstrations, which will – according
    to drafts seen so far – contain very restrictive provisions including a
    limit on how many people can join together in a peaceful public
    demonstration.

To read the complete statement, please click here (LICADHO website, pdf).