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Annual Report Cambodia
Amnesty International - May 24, 2012
Forced evictions, land disputes and land grabbing continued on a large scale, with thousands of people affected. An increase in the number of economic land concessions granted to business interests by the government exacerbated the situation. Impunity for perpetrators of human rights abuses and lack of an independent judiciary remained serious problems. The authorities continued to restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly by threatening, harassing and taking legal action against human rights defenders in an effort to silence them. Grassroots communities and land and housing rights activists were particularly at risk. A controversial proposed law to regulate NGOs and associations met with widespread opposition from civil society and was postponed. Critical developments at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia threatened to derail proceedings and deny justice to the victims of Khmer Rouge atrocities.
An ongoing border dispute with Thailand over ownership of the area surrounding Preah Vihear temple, a World Heritage Site, resulted in armed clashes between the two countries in early 2011. The International Court of Justice ruled in July that both sides should withdraw their troops from the area, but this was only partially adhered to.
In August, the World Bank stated that since December 2010 it had stopped granting new loans to Cambodia until an agreement could be reached with the remaining residents of Boeung Kak Lake in the capital, Phnom Penh. Almost 4,000 families have been forcibly evicted from the area since 2008.
In October, the government temporarily banned sending domestic workers to Malaysia, after a series of incidents involving the reported abuse of Cambodian women and girls recruited to work as maids. Recruitment agencies in Cambodia were also accused of unlawfully detaining women and girls for training prior to sending them abroad.
Cambodia formally assumed the chair of ASEAN in November, to begin in January 2012. The government announced its intention to seek a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council in 2013-14.
Thousands of people remained affected by forced evictions, land disputes and land grabs, often because of economic land concessions for agro-industrial and urban development, or mining concessions. Estimates by local NGOs indicated that 420,000 people had been affected in areas covering approximately half of the country monitored since 2003. In another estimate, 10 per cent of the population of Phnom Penh had either been forcibly evicted or, in some cases, evicted through voluntary planned resettlement since 2001.
Flawed proceedings and allegations of government interference with the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia cast a shadow over its credibility.
The Co-Investigating Judges announced the closure of Case 003 in April, apparently without having undertaken full investigations. Case 004 remained with the Co-Investigating Judges. In October, the Pre-Trial Chamber rejected an appeal by a victim to be recognized as a civil party in Cases 003 and 004. The two international judges who supported the appeal revealed that there had been several errors, including alleged manipulation of documents, which denied the rights of both victims and suspects. The international Co-Investigating Judge resigned a few days before these findings were made public, citing political interference. His replacement by Reserve Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet was delayed after the Cambodian government failed to agree to the appointment.
Human rights defenders
The trial of Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan began in November. All three, aged between 79 and 85, were alleged senior leaders during the Khmer Rouge period and defendants in Case 002. They were charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. With ongoing concerns about the health of the accused, the Trial Chamber found defendant Ieng Thirith, aged 79, unfit to stand trial, stayed proceedings against her, and ordered her release. In December, the Supreme Court Chamber overturned this decision and ordered her continued detention in hospital or in another appropriate facility, pending a medical examination and another fitness assessment.
The authorities continued to threaten, harass, physically attack and use legal action against trade unionists, land and housing rights activists, NGO workers and other human rights defenders, to prevent them from carrying out peaceful activities. Strikes and protests by trade union activists and workers were broken up with unnecessary or excessive force. Women were at the forefront of peaceful resistance to evictions at Boeung Kak Lake. On several occasions, some were injured when security officials violently intervened in peaceful protests.
Freedom of expression, association and assembly
In November, Kong Chantha, Bo Chhorvy, Heng Mom and Tep Vanny were arrested, detained and charged with "insult" and "obstructing officials" after taking part in a peaceful protest at Boeung Kak Lake. They were released under court supervision, and if found guilty, could face a large fine and up to one year's imprisonment. Verbal and written threats as well as physical harassment against Venerable Loun Savath, a Buddhist monk and human rights defender, increased. Venerable Loun Savath supported and spoke out on behalf of communities at risk of losing their land or homes. In April, the Phnom Penh Monk's office banned him from staying at any monasteries in Phnom Penh. The ban was later extended elsewhere throughout the country. Union leader Sous Chantha was convicted in June of distributing drugs and sentenced to 10 months' imprisonment. Two months of the sentence were suspended, and as he had already spent nine months in pre-trial detention, he was released. The charges against him were believed to be unfounded and intended to deter him and other union leaders from advocating for labour rights.
As grassroots communities and activists increasingly mobilized to hold meetings and protests on human rights-related issues, the authorities attempted to stop gatherings and limit protests. Threats against some human rights NGOs critical of the impact of a railway redevelopment project on communities who had to resettle, led to the first ever official suspension of a local NGO, Samakhum Teang Tnaut.
The Law on Prisons, approved by the National Assembly in November, contained provisions enabling the potentially exploitative use of prison labour by private companies. The fourth draft Trade Union Law was amended following criticism of earlier drafts by Cambodian and international unions and garment buyers. They were critical of provisions which criminalized the failure to comply with some aspects of the law. Concerns remained about vague provisions for suspension, cancellation and dissolution of unions.
Throughout the year the government attempted to finalize the draft Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations, despite adequate provisions on the regulation of organizations in the Civil Code. The first three drafts met with widespread criticism from Cambodian civil society, international organizations and other governments. After the fourth draft met with similar criticism, the Prime Minister announced in December that it would be delayed until 2014 if necessary in order to find a consensus.
Amnesty International delegates visited Cambodia in February and November/December.