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Human rights in Cambodia
Amnesty International Report - May 2011
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.
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.
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.
Human rights defenders
In September, Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea were charged with genocide of the Cham and Vietnamese, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other crimes. Prime Minister Hun Sen undermined progress on an additional two cases covering five individuals by warning that he would not allow further prosecutions.
Scores of people were arrested for defending the right to housing and protesting against land grabs and forced evictions, with dozens serving sentences imposed in previous years. Most were charged with fabricated, groundless or spurious offences, such as damage to private property, incitement, robbery, and assault.
Freedom of expression and association
Trials continued of villagers involved in protests over loss of farmland in a dispute in Chikreng district of Siem Reap province. Hundreds of villagers attended the trials to support the defendants, including Buddhist monk Luon Savath, who was harassed by security forces and threatened with defrocking for his peaceful activities. He had documented the aftermath of the shooting of Chikreng protesters by security forces in March 2009. In May, community leaders Long Sarith and Long Chan Kiri were sentenced to two years' imprisonment for "clearing state forest" in connection with a land dispute involving a sugar company and residents of Bos village in Samrong district of Oddar Meanchey province. The homes of 100 families in the village were destroyed by security forces four days after their arrest in October 2009.
The courts were used to curtail freedom of expression and association of journalists, trade union members and opposition parliamentarians.
Violence against women and girls
After two trials in January and September, Sam Rainsy, leader of the largest opposition party, was sentenced in absentia to 12 years' imprisonment concerning protests over disputed territory on the Cambodia-Viet Nam border. He lived in exile. In September, around 200,000 workers took part in a four-day nationwide strike to protest over an inadequate increase in the minimum wage. Union leaders and activists were threatened with legal action, including charges of "incitement". Factory owners suspended union leaders and protesting workers were fired from their jobs. Even after intervention by the authorities, by December around 370 workers and union leaders had not been reinstated. Several court cases were ongoing at the end of the year.
No comprehensive, reliable official data was available on incidents of violence against women and girls, including sexual violence, or on the number of prosecutions of suspected perpetrators. Victims faced obstacles in obtaining justice due to criminal justice system failures and out of court settlements. A shortage of services to aid and support victims added to their trauma.
Meas Veasna was reportedly raped by a monk at a pagoda in Prey Veng province in June 2009 just weeks after giving birth. Although she reported the crime to the police and attended a meeting with pagoda leaders, police, local authorities and the alleged perpetrator, no prosecution was made. Instead, a pagoda representative gave her USD250 for medication. She now lives in a different town from her husband and young children because of the stigma attached to rape.