Cambodia: NGOs threatened and intimidated for holding human rights training
Government officials and police yesterday [Sept 7] disrupted a human rights training session provided by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and the Natural Resource Protection Group (NRPG), and threatened to arrest the organisers. The training was organised for communities affected by the clearing of Prey Lang forest. This is the second time within a month that human rights training events organised by CCHR and NRGP have been disrupted by the authorities. The allegations and threats against CCHR and NRGP is the latest development in an ongoing crackdown on civil society groups in Cambodia.
Officials and police armed with AK‐47 guns arrived yesterday morning (7 Sept 2011) at the training venue in Mean Rith commune, Sandan district, in Kampong Thom Province. They accused the organisers of not providing adequate notice of the event and threatened to arrest them if they proceeded with the training.
According to the Cambodian Law on Peaceful Demonstrations, no notice is required for “education dissemination activities” which include training. Although no arrests were made, the police photographed all the participants, organisers and observers of the training. The deputy governor of Sandan district, Div Hok, also demanded that the organisers hand over the identity cards of all participants and observers, but this was denied. After a two hour stand-off between the authorities and the organisers, the training was eventually allowed to take place by the Sandan district council.
“The harassment of human right defenders that took place yesterday is yet another example of the Cambodian government’s attempt to curtail the activities of civil society, freedom of speech and peaceful political opposition. Communities affected by forest clearing and land disputes should be able to know their rights and have full access to the information that will affect their lives,” said Dr. Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19’s Executive Director.
Yesterday’s incident follows a news report in The Cambodia Daily on 6 Sept 2011, in which the police chief of Kampong Thom province, Phan Sopheng, was quoted accusing CCHR and NRPG of inciting citizens to oppose land concessions, by providing human rights training to affected communities in Dang Kambith on 9-10 Aug 2011. Sopheng threatened to suspend both organisations should they continue to conduct further training. The permission to use a venue for a training event scheduled on 8 Sept 2011 was also withdrawn following pressure from the authorities.
By threatening NGOs for holding human rights trainings and intimidating the participants, the authorities are violating the right to freedom of expression and freedom of association and assembly, as guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Cambodia has conceded to.
Human rights defenders and civil society organisations in Cambodia have been facing an ongoing crackdown by the authorities. On 2 Aug, a local NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT), which conducts technical research on resettlement issues, was accused of failing to modify its leadership structure and to revise its statute, and ordered to suspend its activities for five months by the Ministry of the Interior. On 13 Aug, the Ministry of Interior publicly accused STT of “incitement” of persons to oppose development projects. Formal warning letters were subsequently issued to two other organizations working on the same issues. Aside from that, the Cambodian government is currently finalising a draft Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations, which have been widely criticised by domestic and international civil society organisations, foreign governments and the United Nations as a serious threat to human rights defenders, NGOs and associations in Cambodia.