10 Years in Review: Rights Abuses in Cambodia

Published on December 1, 2019

To mark International Human Rights Day on December 10 2019, LICADHO is publishing summaries of major events and human rights abuses spanning the last decade. Each day will feature a new year, starting on December 1 with a summary of events in 2010 and culminating on December 10 with a look back at 2019.

YEAR 2016 ↓ Jump to previous year

Filter by topic: Land Political Labour
Civil Society Expression

Labour: On 6 February, 14 people were injured in brutal violence after about 50 striking bus drivers and their supporters were attacked while demonstrating near the Capitol Tours Bus Company in Phnom Penh. Men wearing helmets and wielding metal bars, hammers and sticks attacked the protesting crowd and savagely beat several workers, while some anti-demonstration police joined in the beatings and other police officers tried to stop the violence. Two protest victims were arrested and spent nearly two months in prison. No members of the attacking group were arrested. On the same day, four trade union leaders were charged over the violence, despite only one of them being present during the event.

Political: On 10 March, a minister attached to the prime minister, Som Soeun, sued CNRP leader Sam Rainsy for defamation over a Facebook post, in which Rainsy accused Soeun of instructing CPP members to boost the prime minister’s “like” count on Facebook using fake accounts.

Political: On 22 March, it was reported that Foreign Minister Hor Namhong filed a lawsuit in France against CNRP leader Sam Rainsy over a Facebook post in which Rainsy accused Namhong of running a Khmer Rouge prison camp in the late 1970s.

Political: On 11 April, CNRP parliamentarian Um Sam An was arrested at night by Siem Reap police over remarks he made in 2015 concerning a disputed border demarcation along the Cambodia-Vietnam border. He was charged with incitement the following day.

Political: On 24 April, the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) arrested Seang Chet, a CNRP commune chief, over charges of bribery related to a complaint signed by Khom Chandaraty, an alleged mistress of opposition leader Kem Sokha. The story was revealed by pro-CPP online news outlet Freshnews. Sean Chet was accused of offering Chandaraty’s family $500 on behalf of Kem Sokha.

Civil Society: On 2 May, four senior staff from the rights NGO ADHOC – Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, Lim Mony and Nay Vanda - were charged with bribery and sent to prison in Phnom Penh. A former ADHOC staffer and recently appointed deputy secretary general of the National Election Committee, Ny Chakrya, was also sent to prison after being charged as an accomplice. Charges were also filed against Soen Sally, a staffer at the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR). The five current and former ADHOC staffers were summoned by the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) and questioned for five days in relation to a complaint signed by Khom Chandaraty, who authorities alleged had an affair with opposition leader Kem Sokha. Soen Sally had diplomatic immunity as a UN employee, although the ACU and the prime minister both argued that Sally did not have such protection.

Civil Society: On 9 May, eight human rights workers and activists were detained by authorities during the first “Black Monday” campaign to protest the arrest of 5 current and former members of ADHOC. Six of the eight were arrested on their way to a gathering outside of the prison where the 5 current and former ADHOC staffers were being detained. The arrested included leaders from LICADHO, STT, and the Boeung Kak and Borei Keila communities. Police later detained and questioned two international staffers from LICADHO regarding the protest.

Civil Society: On 18 May, the government threatened LICADHO with possible closure under the newly implemented Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO). Authorities alleged LICADHO had breached the vague “political neutrality” clause of the law following the publication of a list of political prisoners on its website.

Political: On 26 May, authorities attempted to arrest opposition leader Kem Sokha after he ignored a summons to answer questions about his alleged affair with Khom Chandaraty. Sokha would spend much of the remaining year in the CNRP headquarters to avoid arrest.

Political: On 30 May, a petition delivered by the opposition to the King asking for him to alleviate the political crisis and thumb-printed by 170,000 supporters became the target of an investigation. At least 18 activists gathering thumbprints were briefly detained in May and June, and hundreds of police and troops armed with tear gas barricaded main streets in Phnom Penh the day opposition politicians attempted to deliver the petition.

Civil Society: On 10 July, Kem Ley was shot dead at a Caltex petrol station in central Phnom Penh. The political analyst and co-founder of a political party was murdered in broad daylight. Kem Ley was frequently critical of the government through traditional and social media. A suspect was arrested and identified himself as “Chuob Samlab”, or “Meet Kill”, an alias. He confessed to the murder, but the investigation and subsequent trial were insufficient and heavily criticised by local and international civil society groups.

Land: On 17 August, Tep Vanny and Bov Sophea – two Boeung Kak activists – were charged and sent to prison in relation to their involvement in the “Black Money” campaign, which called for the release of the 5 imprisoned human rights defenders. They were arrested on 15 August during a peaceful vigil.

Civil Society: On 22 August, three NGO workers from Equitable Cambodia were convicted in a spurious defamation case related to a private, internal evaluation of a former employee. The case was previously delayed after the defense lawyer pointed out the original trial judge was also the investigating judge, contravening Cambodian law.

Political: On 1 September, Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) attack helicopters repeatedly circled the CNRP headquarters where opposition leader Kem Sokha was staying, while speedboats mounted with machine guns and soldiers from the prime minister’s bodyguard unit also surrounded the office. For weeks after this date, the demonstrations of force continued regularly outside of the headquarters building in Phnom Penh. The display of force followed an earlier remark by then RCAF chief of joint staff General Kun Kim, who proclaimed that his armed forces stood ready to arrest the opposition leader, and would do so even at the cost of blood.

Political: On 9 September, opposition leader Kem Sokha was tried and convicted in absentia of “refusal to appear as a witness” after his legal team insisted his parliamentary immunity made the trial illegitimate. He was sentenced to 5 months in prison.

Civil Society: On 22 September, Ny Chakrya, a former ADHOC staffer and member of the National Election Committee, was convicted by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on charges of defamation, malicious denunciation, and publication of commentaries intended to unlawfully coerce judicial authorities. The case related to statements Chakrya made in 2015 as an ADHOC worker during a press conference in which he called for investigation into irregularities and the release of two victims of a land grab. This marked the first use of legal provisions in the new penal code criminalizing criticism of the judiciary.

Civil Society/Land: On 10 October, land activist Chan Puthisak and LICADHO monitoring manager Am Sam Ath were beaten by Daun Penh district para-police officers while participating in a peaceful march to mark World Habitat Day in Phnom Penh. They suffered blows to the head, neck, back and chest. The event called for an end to land grabbing and urged authorities to respect land and housing rights.

Political: On the 13, 14 and 15 of November, during Water Festival holidays, Cambodian authorities disrupted, prevented and halted voter registration, education and dissemination activities undertaken by youth volunteers in Phnom Penh and the provinces. Several youths were briefly detained over the campaign.

YEAR 2015 ↓ Jump to previous year

Filter by topic: Land Political Labour
Civil Society Expression

Civil Society: On 23 February, Cambodian authorities denied a visa renewal for high-profile environmental activist Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, a member of the NGO Mother Nature that was seeking to halt the development of a hydroelectric dam in Areng Valley, Koh Kong province. Gonzalez-Davidson was deported to Thailand after being arrested and forced into a car by government authorities, hours after Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a warning during a public speech.

Civil Society: On 19 March, Cambodia’s parliament amended the Law on Election of Members of the National Assembly to fine and ban any NGOs that criticise political parties during the 21-day election campaign period.

Civil Society: On 29 April, General Sok Phal, head of the General Department of Immigration, threatened to take action against the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), accusing them of conspiring with Montagnard refugees, who he called “illegal Vietnamese.” The General asserted that “Cambodian law says that any individual that has conspired with illegal immigrants must be condemned.” By 1 May 2015, the Cambodian government had deported 54 Vietnamese asylum seekers, many of whom were members of ethnic minority groups broadly categorized as Montagnards, who faced persecution by Vietnamese authorities.

Political: On 21 July, 11 officials and supporters of the CNRP were convicted of charges relating to insurrection and sentenced to between 7 and 20 years in prison. Only one of the nine defense lawyers was present for the hearing, and a request to delay the trial was denied. Police entered the courtroom as soon as the judges left the bench to deliberate. The 11 officials and supporters were arrested following a protest that turned violent on 15 July 2014 at Freedom Park. None of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit identified any of the 11 as having committed acts of violence during the event.

Labour: On 8 August, Chhouk Bandith turned himself in to authorities after Prime Minister Hun Sen called for his arrest. Bandith had fired into a crowd of protesting workers in 2012, injuring 3, and was convicted in 2013. He was transferred to Phnom Penh’s CC1 prison in December, but by the end of the year he was in a private room at Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital receiving treatment.

Civil Society: On 12 August, the Law on Associations and NGOs (LANGO) went into effect. A broad coalition of international and local NGOs had objected to the law for years, noting it was overly restrictive and in conflict with Cambodia’s Constitution and international law. LANGO imposed draconian requirements and criminalised unregistered groups. It would later be used to shut down activities of rights NGOs on baseless grounds.

Political: On 15 August, police arrested Hong Sok Hour, a Sam Rainsy Party senator, one day after Prime Minister Hun Sen called for his “urgent” arrest. Hong Sok Hour was arrested over a video he posted on Facebook that contained an inaccurate reproduction of a historical document related to the Vietnam-Cambodia border. Arrest warrants were also issued for three other CNRP youth members over the video. Two days later, CPP senators voted unanimously to strip Hong Sok Hour of his parliamentary immunity.

Civil Society: On 17 August, three activists associated with Mother Nature were arrested over their involvement in a direct-action campaign to stop sand dredging in the rivers and estuaries around Koh Kong province.

Civil Society: On 2 September, 17 protesters, NGO staff and media workers were detained in Koh Kong’s provincial police station after gathering to call for a solution to a long-standing land conflict. The Chi Khor Krom community was involved in a land dispute with tycoon Heng Huy. Nine community members had been summonsed, leading to a group gathering in front of the provincial court to support the community members. They were detained for nearly 8 hours.

OTHER: In October, two people who were unlawfully detained in Prey Speu died. One man allegedly drowned, while another woman died but was cremated before a cause of death was determined. The center has a well-documented history of abuse and criminal negligence.

Political: On 7 October, CPP commune councilor Vein Vorn was arrested on charges related to his activism opposing the hydroelectric dam in Areng Valley. Vorn was sent to Koh Kong provincial prison.

Political: On 26 October, two CNRP members of parliament, Kong Sophea and Nhay Chamroeun, were dragged from their car in front of the National Assembly and brutally beaten by pro-CPP protesters, who had gathered to call for the removal of Kem Sokha as first vice president of the National Assembly. Three of Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit were later convicted in the assault and were given 4-year prison terms with 3 years suspended, meaning they served 1 year in prison. Once released from prison, all 3 bodyguards were later promoted.

Political: On 13 November, a Phnom Penh court issued an arrest warrant for CNRP president Sam Rainsy on charges stemming from a defamation case from 2011, the judgment of which was finalized in 2013. The arrest warrant came the day after the prime minister threatened legal action against Rainsy over comments he had made questioning whether the CPP was committed to holding elections. Rainsy went into self-imposed exile.

Other: On 30 November, the National Assembly approved the Telecommunications Law, which gave the government broad and sweeping powers over content posted on the internet as well as internet service providers.

Civil Society: On 6 December, LICADHO suspended its International Human Rights Day activities in 18 prisons due to restrictions imposed by the General Department of Prisons. It was the first time in 20 years that LICADHO had been prevented from holding events and distributing packages to prisoners.

YEAR 2014 ↓ Jump to previous year

Filter by topic: Land Political Labour
Civil Society Expression

Civil Society: On 2 January, military special unit 911 launched a violent crackdown on striking workers and union leaders. A total of ten CSO and union leaders were believed to have been arrested and held at the 911 military base, and several were beaten severely during their arrests.

Labour: On 3 January 2014, four civilians were shot dead and 21 injured near the Canadia Industrial Area on Veng Sreng Boulevard. Numerous other civilians were arrested and beaten by military police as a crackdown on striking and protesting workers was met with tear gas, live ammunition and grenades. 15-year-old Khem Sopath went missing and was never located.

Political: On 4 January 2014, hundreds of police and military police blocked roads surrounding Freedom Park and moved in to clear the park of CNRP-aligned protesters, many of whom were monks or women with their children. Thugs with red armbands wielded steel poles to beat and intimidate the unarmed protesters.

Expression: On 6 March, two journalists in Banteay Meanchey province were accused of defamation by a solider in the elite 70th brigade after reporting on his involvement in land grabbing.

Expression: On 10 March, three journalists were fired upon 5 minutes after photographing military police transporting luxury timber in Kratie province.

Civil Society: On 8 April, NGO Ponlork Khmer was threatened with closure in a letter to the Interior Ministry written by the provincial governor of Preah Vihear. Later a staff member was summonsed to the provincial police station along with two community members.

Expression: On 2 May, authorities beat Voice of Democracy photographer Lay Samean while he was photographing authorities beating a protesting monk in Freedom Park. The brutal attack and beating by about 10 security guards left Samean with extensive damage to his cheek, eye and mouth.

Labour: On 23 May, eight union activists were arrested during a strike asking for improved working conditions. Two days later they were charged with various crimes including incitement and threats to cause damage.

Civil Society: On 25 May, a Kampong Thom military research unit member stabbed an environmental activist from the Prey Land Community Network after the activist had identified him the year prior as engaged in illegal logging.

Civil Society: On 30 May, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted and issued suspended sentences for 23 men and two minors arrested during the November 2013 and January 2014 protests. The convictions included heavy fines and the trial process was deeply flawed and widely condemned.

Political: On 15 July, an event organised by CNRP lawmakers and involved about 300 supporters near the barricaded Freedom Park turned violent. Security forces initially moved in to break up the peaceful demonstration and began beating several demonstrators with batons. Protesters later seized those batons and began beating the security guards. At least 10 security guards and six protesters were injured in the violence, and four CNRP leaders were arrested. Eight CNRP members would later be charged in relation to the incident.

Land: On 28 July, a 19-year-old farmer Try Chamroeun was shot dead by an RCAF soldier after the soldier claimed that villagers were no longer permitted to farm the area because it belonged to a superior officer.

Land: On 28 July, Daun Penh para-police beat two women activists with the Boeung Kak and Borei Keila communities unconscious while police looked on in Phnom Penh.

Land: On 12 August, authorities violently dispersed 50 villagers from the Lor Peang community and arrested three, including the husband of Lor Peang community representative Um Sophy. Eight villagers were injured.

Civil Society: On 10 September, two researchers with Equitable Cambodia were detained overnight by immigration police in Oddar Meanchey province while investigating land grabbing. They were arrested without a warrant or cause, interrogated about their research activities. They were investigating abuses linked to Thai sugar giant Mitr Phol.

Labour: On 16 September, two union representatives were arrested and detained in Prey Veng province after leading a protest in front of a factory to demand better working conditions.

Political: Beginning on 29 September and extending through November, 19 CNRP members, monks and long-term land rights activists were arrested and handed heavy prison sentences. Of the 19 arrests, 16 occurred between 10 and 13 November, and 11 of the 16 were charged, tried and convicted just one day after their arrest. All 19 remained in prison at the end of 2014.

Civil Society: On 11 October, police in Oddar Meanchey province punched a staff member at Equitable Cambodia after they refused to allow the police to search their car without a warrant. Following the beating and an illegal search, the police confiscated the car and deleted photographs from a camera.

Land: On 10 November, 10 human rights defenders from Boeung Kak were arrested and sentenced to one year in prison in a deeply flawed judicial process relating to two land protests.

Other: On 26 November, a man was found dead after being arbitrarily detained and denied medical treatment at Prey Speu center outside of Phnom Penh. The man was taken off the streets and brought to the center, where he was not provided any medical treatment despite having obvious signs of illness. He died on 26 November and his body was immediately taken to be cremated.

YEAR 2013 ↓ Jump to previous year

Filter by topic: Land Political Labour
Civil Society Expression

Political: In February, more than 500 villagers in Kampong Chhnang province were threatened with removal of their names from voter lists if they attended a public forum with CNRP leader Kem Sokha. The villagers were forced by local authorities to thumbprint papers they did not understand, signing their votes over to the CPP.

Political: In March, the Prime Minister publicly stated a CPP loss in the election would also result in cuts to “hundreds of thousands” of development projects and the disappearance of a land titling program. The Prime Minister also threatened violence and civil warfare if the CNRP were to win the election.

Land: On 13 March, a group of Boeung Kak demonstrators were brutally beaten by police after they gathered in a public park near the Prime Minister’s house to call for the release of activist Yorm Bopha. Five were injured, including Lous Sokorn, Bopha’s husband.

Expression: On 15 March, the Court of Appeal ordered Mam Sonando, owner of independent radio station Beehive, and his co-defendants released from prison. Sonando was imprisoned in July 2012 on charges of leading a so-called “secession movement” in Kratie province. In October 2012, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The Court of Appeal inexplicably changed Sonando’s charges to illegal-logging related crimes, reduced his sentence to five years, and suspended all but the eight months that Sonando had already served.

Land: On 30 March, Boeung Kak community members gathered outside City Hall to call for Yorm Bopha’s release and a resolution to the community’s land conflict. A few demonstrators grouped together to block traffic on Monivong Boulevard. Authorities responded by using three firetrucks to blast high pressure water hoses to disperse the protestors.

Land: On 30 May, a petition was filed to the Thai National Human Rights Commission on behalf of 602 complainants about serious human rights violations linked to sugar concessions held by Thai sugar giant, Mitr Phol Sugar Corporation. The Thai company was granted three enormous Economic Land Concessions (ELCs) for industrial sugarcane production in Samrong and Chongkal districts, in Oddar Meanchey Province. Violations include illegal confiscation of land from local people, destruction of their homes, killing of livestock, arson, looting of crops, beatings, threats, intimidation and arrests of villagers.

Political: On 05 June, the National Assembly permanent committee—made up entirely of CPP members—expelled all 29 opposition party representatives from the legislature, on the grounds that they had switched parties. The two main opposition parties had officially merged earlier in the year to create the CNRP.

Political: In June 2013, a government-orchestrated smear campaign alleged that CNRP vice-president Kem Sokha was guilty of adultery, pedophilia, failure to support “adopted” children with a mistress, and denial of Khmer Rouge crimes. The character assassination dominated the public consciousness with repeated play on nationwide government-controlled TV broadcasts.

Labour: In June 2013, a trial was held for Chhouk Bandith, governor of Bavet town, Svay Rieng province. In February 2012, thousands of factory workers held massive demonstrations for increased wages at several factories located in the town. Bandith arrived at the protest on 20 February, pulled out a gun and indiscriminately fired into the group of factory workers, injuring three. The trial court convicted Bandith of causing involuntary bodily harm and sentenced him to 18 months in prison. Bandith was never arrested or sent to prison.

Land: On 11 June, the Prime Minister suspended a land measuring and titling campaign launched in 2012. Implementation was shrouded in secrecy and independent monitoring was strictly forbidden. The program was funded by private donations from the Prime Minister and his closest allies. Despite claims that the program provided titles to 470,000 families, covering 1.8 million hectares of land, the program meticulously avoided most areas of land conflict where ELCs infringed on land of prior occupants.

Expression: On 28 June, the government’s ban on all foreign-produced Khmer language radio broadcasts came into effect. Women’s Media Center FM 102, Beehive FM 105 were forced to stop re-broadcasting Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Voice of America (VOA). While authorities rescinded the ban the next day, a separate order still stood. All media was banned from disseminating foreign media reports regarding opinion polls, surveys, and election results beginning five days before election day.

Political: In July 2013, following Sam Rainsy’s return to Cambodia, bullets were fired through the window of the CNRP headquarters, missing 10 supporters inside.

Political: Sam Rainsy and CNRP vice-president Kem Sokha spoke disparagingly of ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia and warned of a Vietnamese threat to the country. Xenophobic sentiments continued throughout the year.

Political: On 28 July, the national election was marked by serious discrepancies at polling stations around the country. This included voter roll irregularities, inexplicable missing names, and denials of the right to vote. There were also indications of fraud, vote rigging, and intimidation or harassment at polling stations. The results showed the CPP winning a narrow victory, which the CNRP rejected.

Political: On 15 September, Mao Sok Chan, a 29-year-old-man, was shot in the head and died at the scene of a multi-day demonstration called by the CNRP to call for a vote recount or re-election. Tensions escalated in the evening when traffic chaos caused by roadblocks near Monivong Bridge led military police to fire tear gas and live ammunition into the crowd. Nine men were seriously injured and taken to the hospital. Eight had bullet wounds. Many younger men, including teenagers, were beaten bloody by the police. Six bystanders, including an ethnic Vietnamese minor, were arrested over the incident.

Political: On 20 September, hundreds of armed security forces, comprised mainly of military police, dispersed a peaceful gathering of Buddhist monks and CNRP supporters at Wat Phnom.

Land: On 22 September, authorities including police and military police carrying guns and electroshock weapons broke up a peaceful vigil at Wat Phnom by Boeung Kak activists. The group, which included women and children, were calling for the release of imprisoned activist Yorm Bopha. Starting at around 10:30 pm, dozens of uniformed and plainclothes security forces began to beat the activists as well as human rights observers and journalists at the scene. At least 10 community representatives were injured, one human rights monitor sustained a chest injury and several journalists received electric shocks.

Labour: On 12 November, about 600 striking workers attempted to march to the Prime Minister’s home to press for responses from the government. They had been on strike for three months over unresolved demands. The workers were blocked by barricades and over one hundred anti-riot policemen at the Stung Meanchey bridge. Police fired water cannons, teargas, and live ammunition into the crowd. By the end of the morning, one innocent food vendor had been shot dead, nine people injured by bullets, and over 30 people arrested.

YEAR 2012 ↓ Jump to previous year

Filter by topic: Land Political Labour
Civil Society Expression

Land: On 3 January, more than 100 mixed security forces fired tear gas and bullets at residents of Phnom Penh’s Borei Keila neighborhood. Workers demolished homes of some 300 families, and residents were unable to salvage possessions. Eight community members were arrested.

Land: On 3 January, a military police officer acting as a private security guard fired on indigenous villagers in Ratanakiri province over a long-standing dispute involving villagers from Ka Nat Thum Village and the Heng Brother Rubber Company.

Land: On 11 January, 30 Borei Keila residents – 24 women and 6 children – were arrested without charges in front of Phnom Penh City Hall and sent to the Prey Speu Social Affairs Center.

Land: On 18 January, military personnel acting as security guards for TTY Co Ltd. fired on a group of villagers in Kratie. Four villagers were injured by bullets as they tried to stop the company from destroying their crops.

Civil society: On 20 February, an ADHOC staff member was summonsed for charges of “slanderous denunciation” after ADHOC intervened in a case of a waitress being sexually harassed and molested by Oum Socheath, head of the Banteay Meanchey branch of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre. The charge was later dropped.

Labour: On 20 February, a district governor in Svay Rieng opened fire on more than 1,000 protesting workers in Svay Rieng. Three young women were injured. The shooter was allowed to flee the scene despite the presence of military police. Despite admitting to firing his weapon, the shooter, Chhouk Bandith, was charged with causing “unintentional injury”, was never detained, and the charges were dropped in December.

Civil society: On 26 April, environmental activist Chut Wutty was shot dead while investigating illegal logging in the Cardamom mountains. Wutty was the director of the Natural Resource Protection Group and was accompanying two Cambodia Daily journalists when he was shot. A military police officer was also killed. Authorities offered 4 separate explanations for the MP’s death, including that he shot himself twice with an assault rifle, and the resulting investigation into Wutty’s murder was highly insufficient.

Land: On 27 April, the government ordered a moratorium on new land concessions. In June, LICADHO documented at least 12 new concessions, totaling more than 80,000 hectares, due to a loophole in the moratorium allowing concessions already “agreed in principle” to move forward – a loophole so large it swallowed the ban itself.

Land: On 16 May, a 14-year-old girl was shot dead in Kratie after hundreds of state armed forces stormed her village. Two other villagers were injured. Authorities later accused villagers of plotting to secede from the state of Cambodia, a claim with no apparent evidence. Villagers had been involved in a land dispute with Casotim, an agribusiness located nearby.

Land: On 22 May, 13 activists from Boeung Kak Lake were arrested after a peaceful demonstration over a land dispute that had already displaced 3,500 families. Their arrest came during a peaceful protest after several participants began singing. Two days after their arrest, the court held a mass trial and convicted the 13 of “illegal occupation of land” and “obstruction of a public official with aggravating circumstances,” sentencing them to 2.5 years in prison. Lawyers for the activists were refused a delay, denied access to the case file, denied access to state evidence, and prevented from calling witnesses.

Land: On 24 May, Venerable Loun Sovath was forced into a car and driven to a local pagoda after he joined a gathering in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to support the 13 arrested Boeung Kak activists. Loun Sovath was threatened with defrocking and criminal charges unless he stopped advocating for human rights victims.

Land: On 26 May, armed forced destroyed 60 hectares of plantations belonging to 15 families in Preah Sihanouk province, led by the provincial prosecutor. The land was earmarked for the construction of a new prison. Villagers were not given compensation and at least one was injured during the clearance operation.

Expression: On 15 July, authorities arrested Mam Sonando, owner and director of one of Cambodia’s only independent radio stations Beehive Radio, on several charges including participation in an insurrectionary movement. The previous month, the station had broadcast a story about a communication submitted to the International Criminal Court regarding government human rights abuses, and 24 hours after that report Prime Minister Hun Sen had publicly called for Sonando’s arrest. He was later convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Land: On 1 July, anti-riot police prevented Boeung Kak residents from reaching the appeals court where the imprisoned 13 were scheduled for a trial. Officers later injured 5 villagers and 7 children who needed medical treatment. One victim – the sister of an imprisoned activist - had a miscarriage after being kicked in the stomach by a police officer.

Labour: On 11 July, union leader Rong Panha was viciously beaten by authorities while peacefully protesting in Phnom Penh during an ASEAN summit. Panha was supporting striking workers from the Tai Yang Enterprises factory, which supplied clothing giants such as Levi Strauss, Gap and Old Navy, among others.

Land: On 4 and 5 September, two Boeung Kak activists – Yorm Bopha and Tim Sakmony – were arrested and placed in pre-trial detention in separate cases, neither of which had evidence to support the charges.
EXPRESSION: On 11 September, the dismembered body of environmental journalist Hang Serei Odom was found in Ratanakiri province. Serei Odom was a local newspaper reporter who often covered stories exposing illegal logging.

Land: On 15 November, 8 people in Phnom Penh were arrested for 12 hours after they painted “SOS” on their rooftops next to an image of then-US President Barack Obama, who was due to arrive in Phnom Penh the next week. More than 165 households from the community near the airport were given eviction notices in July despite having legal rights to their land.

Labour: On 26 December, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun – two men accused of killing union leader Chea Vichea in 2004 – were arrested and imprisoned after the court of appeal reheard their case. The pair, widely believed to have been framed as scapegoats, had been freed in December 2008 by the Supreme Court, in a decision which ordered further investigation into the killing amid extensive evidence of their innocence. Without hearing any new evidence of guilt during the rehearing in November 2012, the court of appeal ordered them back to prison to serve the remainder of their 20-year sentences.

YEAR 2011 ↓ Jump to previous year

Filter by topic: Land Political Labour Civil Society Expression

Land: On 25 January, 30 villagers in Kampong Speu province were injured by around 80 mixed armed security forces during a demonstration by the villagers to protect approximately 950 hectares of land threatened by the Master International Cooperation Group. The same day, a community representative, Reach Siema, and ADHOC staffer Soum Chankea were found guilty of defamation following a lawsuit filed by KDC International Co. KDC International Co. was involved in a land dispute with villagers in Kampong Chhnang. The company is owned by Chea Keng, the wife of the then-Minister of Industry, Energy and Mines.

Land: On 26 January, two villagers from Preah Sihanouk were summonsed to court to face charges alleging their counterfeited documents. The villagers represented 42 families protecting their community’s land from seizure by Mong Reththy Co.

Land: On 25 February, 35 villagers in Kampong Speu were severely beaten and injured by mixed armed security forces, including military soldiers from Region 3. The villagers were beaten during a protest against the use of bulldozers attempting to clear their land by Master International Group.

Labour: On 25 February, union leader Pen Phalla and 71 construction workers were fired after they sought to unionize. The workers were helping construct Cambodia’s railway network, a project that was partially funded by the Asian Development Bank.

Land: On 28 February, three Boeung Kak lake community representatives were arrested in Phnom Penh during a demonstration against a plan to build an access road through their community that would demolish 19 houses.

Land: On 14 March, community representative Preap Narin was arrested by 15 military police and environmental officials led by a Union Development Group Company Ltd. Representative. The arrest came after Narin led a protest of 30 families affected by the company’s 36,000-hectare land concession in Koh Kong province.

Land: On 25 March, Boeung Kak community representative Kong Chantha was beaten and arrested after taking part in a gathering outside City Hall.

Land: On 21 April, 11 villagers from Boeung Kak were arrested and detained overnight after a protest of about 11 villagers was violently dispersed by security forces. One pregnant woman lost her baby after being dragged away by police.

Land: On 30 April, military police beat three villagers with guns during a two-day protest over a land dispute involving Mong Reththy Co.’s land concession in Mondolkiri.

Labour: On 8 May, 10 striking garment workers were injured and union leader Pheng Chu was detained overnight after more than 1,000 striking workers were violently dispersed by armed military police and police officers in Phnom Penh.

Land: On 26 May, local authorities and soldiers in Kampong Speu burned 10 houses and beat community representative Sim Sun with a gun while threatening his life over a land dispute with local authorities.

Land: On 9 June, an unidentified individual fired gun shots at Neth Suong, an outspoken fishery resource conservation activist, while he was listening to the radio in his home.

Land: On 7 July, Tep Vanny and Non Sok Kheng, two Boeung Kak community representatives, were arrested and detained overnight after a group of villagers gathered near the French embassy.

Civil society: On 16 July, two staffers at land rights NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT) were detained for several hours after being arrested by bodyguards of Senate President Chea Sim. The staffers were taking photographs of houses that had received eviction notices near the high-ranking CPP member’s home.

Labour: On 23 July, four union leaders were arrested by Phnom Penh municipal police. The four activists were distributing union leaflets about the high cost of living and need for higher wages.

Civil society: On 2 August, Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT) was temporarily shuttered by the Ministry of Interior without any legal explanation.

Expression: On 3 August, the Ministry of Information ordered the closure of two independent Khmer-language newspapers, The Water and Fire News and The World News, that had published articles critical of the ruling party.

Expression: On 4 August, five men were convicted of incitement to commit a felony after distributing leaflets criticizing land concessions and alleging the government had close ties with Vietnam.

Land: On 25 August, 40 provincial military police officers in Preah Sihanouk arrested two community representatives on charges of using violence to occupy property. The arrests were related to an ongoing land dispute between 187 families and Oknha Chea Soeun.

Land: On 16 September, Boeung Kak activist Suong Sophorn was savagely beaten by a mob of intervention police, leaving him bleeding and unconscious. The attack came after authorities protected two excavators sent to demolish homes in the lake area.

Civil society: On 13 October, two staffers for ADHOC and a Radio Free Asia journalist were summonsed to court in Ratanakiri province over incitement charges related to a land dispute between DM Group and 136 indigenous families in the province.

Land: On 28 November, four Boeung Kak activists were arrested by Daun Penh security guards during a protest and detained overnight, while 50 residents were physical assaulted by intervention police.

Land: On 13 December, three community activists in Battambang were injured after a military deputy commander, acting as a private security guard for a company, fired on a peaceful gathering of villagers. The villagers were seeking to join a meeting between local authorities and the company, with which they were locked in an ongoing land dispute.

YEAR 2010

Filter by topic: Land Political Labour Civil Society Expression

Other: In the month of January, at least three acid attacks were reported. These attacks, which disproportionately targeted women, would continue as law enforcement and courts failed to stem their proliferation. Human Rights Watch reported at least 36 acid attack victims in 2010.

Political: On 27 January, opposition leader Sam Rainsy was convicted of racial incitement and destroying border demarcation posts. Rainsy was tried in absentia along with two others and was sentenced to two years in prison and fined 8 million riel ($2,000).

Other: On 22 February, Prime Minister Hun Sen signed a sub-decree formalizing into law long-standing agreements between the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and private businesses, whereby private sector corporations would provide money to specific military units. Rights groups noted at the time that many of these military units also intervened on behalf of those private interests in land disputes.

Land: On 1 March, eight villagers involved in a land dispute with an Interior Ministry official were arrested after being blocked from protesting in front of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house. Cameras from rights groups ADHOC and LICADHO were confiscated and photographs of the protest and arrest were deleted. The eight villagers were sent to prison and later released after agreeing to thumbprint documents withdrawing their complaints regarding the land.

Land: In early March, a police officer shot at a group of more than 50 families who had gathered to demand their farmland from a committee set up by the Tan Bien-Kompong Thom Rubber Development Company, which received an economic land concession (ELC) of more than 8,100 hectares in 2007. The ELC put more than 1,300 families at threat of eviction. Three people were hospitalized with serious injuries following the shooting.

Land: On 17 March, more than 30 soldiers from the military’s 313 Battalion were deployed after 300 villagers across 10 villages in Kampong Speu raised objections to a concession granted to CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat, who also officially sponsored the 313 Battalion. Two villagers, Khem Vuthy and You Tho, were summonsed and later charged with incitement, colluding to set structures on fire and colluding to incite violence. The next day, hundreds of villagers headed to Kampong Speu provincial town to show support for the representatives, but at least 3 were beaten by police and 7 suffered minor injuries.

Labour: On 1 May the Cambodian government prevented the Cambodian Confederation of Unions and the Sam Rainsy Party from screening the documentary “Who Killed Chea Vichea?” in Phnom Penh. The film investigates the 2004 murder of Chea Vichea, the former leader of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Despite initially saying they would have no objections, government officials later required approval from “relevant ministries”, accused the film of being “illegally imported” and asserted that the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts must approve all films screened in the country.

Political: On 2 June the Supreme Court upheld a defamation verdict against then-opposition MP Mu Sochua. The verdict was handed down after Prime Minister Hun Sen accused My Sochua of defamation after Sochua held a press conference accusing the prime minister of defamation. The verdict ordered the MP to pay a 8.5 million riel fine ($2,125) and 8 million riel ($2,000) in compensation to the prime minister.

Labour: On 27 July, nine women were injured after armed anti-riot police used electric batons and riot shields to break up a gathering of about 3,000 striking garment workers. The striking workers were demanding the reinstatement of their union representative who had been sacked.

Land: On 27 July, the trial began for nine Chi Kreng community leaders who were charged with attempted murder of police officers related to a long-running land grabbing dispute. The arrests occurred in March 2009, after military police opened fire on Chi Kreng villagers in their rice fields, injuring three. Journalists, civil society monitors and family members were barred from attending the trial, and the nine were later convicted on a different charge of membership in an illegal armed force and handed a partially suspended 3-year prison sentence in August 2010.

Land: On 9 August authorities in Battambang province arrested Nga Mok, a land protester who had recently traveled to Phnom Penh with other community members to gather in front of the Cabinet Ministry building. He was arrested on robbery charges after returning to Kos Krolor district in Battambang, and another villager reported that military and civilian forces surrounded the village to prevent anyone from leaving to protest.

Labour: On 19 August, about 160 garment workers in Phnom Penh went on strike to demand better labour conditions. About a week later, authorities deemed the strike illegal, ordered employees back to work and gave the factory permission to fire the union organizers. Three union leaders – Ien Pov, Heng Bora and Nun Chamnan – were later charged with incitement and destruction of private property.

Civil society: On 30 August, LICADHO staff member Leang Sokchoeun was detained in Takeo court and charged with disinformation for allegedly distributing anti-government leaflets under Article 62 of UNTAC law. He was later sentenced to two years in prison and a $500 fine.

Labour: On 13 September, tens of thousands of garment workers nationwide went on strike in a bid to raise the minimum wage, then $61 per month. After several negotiations with authorities, the strike was called off after 3 days. In the next few days, however, factory owners fired hundreds of union organizers; at least six different Cambodian judges later issued orders authorizing factory owners to suspend nearly 200 union representatives; and at least 10 factories filed lawsuits against unions, requesting around $14 million in compensation. A second wave of strikes was held to protest, and police used force to crack down on these strikes. Twelve workers were injured on 18 September, with one woman hospitalized, and at least three labour leaders reported receiving threats and harassment.

Political: On 23 September, opposition leader Sam Rainsy was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison for forgery of public documents and dissemination of false information by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. The conviction, which was accompanied by more than 125 million riel (more than $31,250) in fines and compensation, was related to Rainsy’s publication of maps of the disputed Cambodia-Vietnam border.

Land: On 28 October 2010, several villagers were beaten by armed anti-riot police and officials after gathering in Phnom Penh to seek a meeting with visiting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon regarding their land conflict in Boeung Kak. Fifty people gathered to seek intervention by the UN leader, but officers launched an assault and beat several with walkie-talkies and electric batons. Suong Sophorn, a Boeung Kak activist, was arrested and viciously beaten, resulting in a bleeding head wound.

Expression: On 18 December, Seng Kunnaka was arrested in Phnom Penh after allegedly printing materials critical of the government from an online blog. He was convicted of criminal incitement several days after his arrest and sentenced to 6 months in prison and a 1 million riel fine ($250).