Joint Statement Appeal to drop all charges against all land community representatives and release three community representatives.

January 14, 2021: We, the civil society groups, unions, and communities listed below, express our deepest concerns over the arrest and detention of three land community representatives recently, as well as the indictment of more than 50 land community representatives. We would like to ask the court to drop the charges and release them.

Mr. Phon Sophal, a representative of the land community in Choam Kravien commune, was arrested by police at the entrance to the Yea Chey company in Ream commune, Prey Nob district, Preah Sihanouk province. This occurred in the morning of December 30, 2020, after he was returning from 2020 annual reflecting with the Cambodian Farmers' Association. The arrest was made under Warrant No. 03, dated December 28, 2020, on charges of conspiracy to incite to commit serious acts of social unrest through social media in Tbong Khmum Province from August 22 to October 22, 2020. The arrest warrant was issued by the investigating judge of Tbong Khmum Provincial Court. He was taken from Sihanoukville to the Tbong Khmum Provincial Prison on the afternoon of December 31, 2020, without providing information to his family in accordance with the procedures. The family later learned of the incident through prison officials who contacted them. Mr. Phon Sophal could face between six months to two years in prison under Articles 494 and 495 of the Penal Code. He has always been active in helping to protect the community land rights and peacefully advocate in accordance with national and international human rights law.

In addition, two community representatives in Sre Prang community in Tbong Khmum province were arrested. More than 30 other community members were charged with various criminal offenses due to their activism and simply trying to protect their community land. Among them, Mr. Sem Sang was arrested in October 2019, and Mr. Hoeun Sinath was arrested in August 2020. The two are facing charges related to land dispute between the community in Tbong Khmum province and a Chinese company, Harmony Win Investment.

In Koh Kong province, 13 land community representatives were charged by the Koh Kong Provincial Court with “defamation”, “inciting to commit acts that cause serious social unrest” and “public defamation”. According to the provisions of Articles 305, 311, 312, 494, and 495 of the Penal Code, they have been placed under judicial supervision due to the exercise of their fundamental rights and freedoms to protect their land.

By monitoring human rights abuses in Cambodia, we, as organizations, associations, unions, and communities, have observed persecution by the authorities and arrests of land and environmental activists. Many have been charged with inciting to commit crimes, including inciting social unrest and other crimes. The arrest and detention of Mr. Phon Sophal, Mr. Hoeun Sinath, Mr. Sem Sang, and Mrs. Eng Van (according to the Supreme Court ruling) as outstanding land activists are direct and indirect threat to land communities across the country. These activists are always defending the rights of citizens in their own communities, these rights are guaranteed by the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia as well as in international law.

We hope that the Royal Government of Cambodia will fulfill its obligation to guarantee the right to freedom of expression in accordance with the Constitution and international human rights law. We also encourage the Tbong Khmum and Koh Kong Provincial Courts to drop all charges against all land community representatives and release the three community representatives, Mr. Phon Sophal, Mr. Hoeun Sinath and Mr. Sem Sang, to reunite with their families and to be able to continue their important work without interruption.  

This statement is supported by:

Rice prices fall in Battambang

The price of rice in Battambang province has dropped by as much as 25 per cent in recent days, pushed down by, among other things, recent flooding and wind that have lowered the grain’s quality, as well as a lack of investment by the private sector.

Battambang provincial governor Nguon Ratanak told The Post on November 23 the fact that farmers had flocked to harvest at a time when rice millers were unable to buy it up in a timely manner also led to the plummeting price.

He said however the price decrease remained at acceptable levels because the Phka Romduol rice variety still cost one million riel ($250) per tonne.

“This price of rice is falling because its quality is not yet up to an acceptable level. After the past floods, some rice leaned into the water and became black. So, we speak about the price falling, and we forget about its quality. Its quality also affects the price.

“After the floods, the wind blows stalks of rice down to the ground. We harvest it late or we harvest it early, its grains are black. We cannot assess it overall,” he said.

Ratanak called on local farmers not to harvest rice at the incorrect time, explaining that when its quality is spoiled the rice must be sold at a lower price. He also called on the private sector to continue to invest in rice in Battambang.

“They have rice mills and rice-drying ovens and they can buy rice from farmers. Currently, they have many rice mills but less rice-drying ovens, so they can’t buy much rice from farmers,” Ratanak said.

Chhim Vichara, the director of the provincial Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, acknowledged the price of rice in the province was falling – from 1,200,000 riel per tonne to between 950,000 riel and 970,000 riel per tonne, depending on the quality.

Battambang has been hit hard by flooding, he said, estimating that the floods and winds had destroyed 30 per cent of the area’s rice stalks.

He said the lack of combine harvesters was also a problem. During the floods, the owners of combine harvesters moved their machines to other provinces, making the harvesting price competitive. Previously, 1ha of rice stalks would cost 280,000 riel to harvest. Now, according to Vichara, the price has reached 350,000 riel to 400,000 riel per hectare, although the authorities have advised combine harvester owners not to increase their prices.

Seun Thouna, a farmer in Thma Koul village, said the price of rice had dropped to more than 800,000 riel per tonne. In previous years, farmers had sold it for more than 1 million riel per tonne.

“No one come to intervene in this problem because farmers have produced many quality yields. If the problem continues, farmers will be forced to spend more on their day-to-day livelihoods. They also have to pay the interest to banks because many farmers had borrowed money from banks to grow crops,” Thouna said.

“What farmers wish now is for relevant authorities to help intervene to make the rice price acceptable. The price should be more than a million riel per tonne,” he said.

Theng Savoeun, the director of the NGO Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community, said if the government does not resolve the problem of falling rice prices, it will have a serious impact on livelihoods of thousands of farming families.

He said some farmers would face the threat of selling their rice paddies to pay the interest they owe to banks. Some others would leave their homes for work in cities or migrate abroad to earn money, he added.

“To solve this problem, the government should release the national budget to buy rice from farmers and stock it so it can be milled and exported to sell abroad,” Savoeun said.

“The government should help stop brokers from lowering the price of rice arbitrarily.”

16 Days of Global Action on Agroecology: Rural peoples mobilise for food systems change

PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) and its partners across the globe today launched the 16 Days of Global Action on Agroecology 2020, with the theme “Fight for Food Systems Change!”, as rural peoples confront the challenges of the hunger crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 16 Days of Global Action on Agroecology is an annual campaign from October 1 to 16 aimed at promoting agroecology as an alternative to chemical-based corporate agriculture and as a way towards achieving people’s food sovereignty. Now on its 6th year, the global campaign this year focuses on the plight of rural peoples during the pandemic, and their demands and aspirations for fundamental changes in the food and agricultural system.

“The COVID-19 crisis confirmed what many rural communities around the world already know – that the prevalent food systems dominated by big profit-seeking interests are failing. There is an urgent need for a radical shift on how, for instance, we are producing food. Agroecology provides us a viable way to produce food in a manner that protects the environment and promotes the rights of farmers and other direct food producers,” said PANAP executive director Sarojeni Rengam.

Rengam stressed that agroecological approaches to food production can only be truly sustainable and beneficial if pursued in the context of thoroughgoing agrarian reform and long-term rural development. “Agroecology can only thrive when land and other productive resources needed to produce food are unencumbered by corporate or landlord monopoly control,” Rengam pointed out.

Several activities will be held in various countries in the Asia Pacific region, Latin America, North America, and Africa as part of the 16 Days of Global Action. These include trainings on agroecology; rural youth leadership trainings; a youth and agroecology webinar; seed exhibitions; bike tours; relief mission for migrant farmworkers; indigenous peoples’ harvest festival & knowledge exchange; home gardening workshops; a plantation protest; village-level educational discussions; a rally vs. an anti-farmer bill; a farmers’ forum on food and rights; youth-led traditional paddy and millet cultivation; and a students’ conference, among others.

On October 14, PANAP will hold an online launch of the book “Pandemic of hunger: Asserting people’s rights amid COVID-19.” On October 15, Rural Women’s Day, there will be local rural women’s festivals and an online Rural Women’s Speak-Out hosted by the Asian Rural Women’s Coalition. The campaign will culminate on October 16 with the #Hungry4Change Digital Farmers’ Caravan, a 13 hour-long online live broadcast rally to mark the “World Hunger Day”, together with the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) and Asian Peasant Coalition (APC).

Initiated by the APC, World Hunger Day is the counterpoint of food sovereignty advocates to the official World Food Day that commemorates the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) every October 16.

A social media campaign using the hashtags #AgroecologyNow, #Hungry4Change and #FoodAndRightsNow will also highlight the demands of rural peoples throughout the 16 Days of Global Action.

Participating organisations include: Bangladesh Research Centre for Indigenous Knowledge or BARCIK; Instituto Politekniko Tomas Katari (Bolivia); Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community or CCFC; Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT), Roots for Equity and Khoj Society for People’s Education (Pakistan); MTKP (Guatemala); Society for Rural Education and Development SRED, Kudumbam, and Andhra Pradesh Vyavsaya Vruthidarula Union or APVVU (India); SERUNI (Indonesia); Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers Forum or ESAFF (Kenya); Tenaganita and ARROW (Malaysia); Women’s Rehabilitation Centre or WOREC (Nepal); Peasant Movement of the Philippines or KMP, Union of Agricultural Workers or UMA, Artist Alliance for Genuine Land Reform and Rural Development or SAKA, MASIPAG, Amihan, Gabriela, and Kadamay-Pandi (Philippines); Vikalpani National Women’s Federation (Sri Lanka); Research Centre for Gender, Family and Environment in Development CGFED (Vietnam); Young Volunteers for the Environment or JVE (Ivory Coast); PAN Africa (Senegal); Zambia Social Forum; Youth for Food Sovereignty; Asian Rural Women’s Coalition; People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty; Asian Peasant Coalition; and PAN North America.

Youths use Facebook to ease farmers’ burden

The pandemic has affected everyone in the world in some way, but some have been hit harder than others. Cambodian farmers fall in the latter group, as many of them have faced a severe loss of income due to the pandemic-spiked economy.

To assist these farmers in dire straits, a group of youths has come together to create Covid Farmer Hacker, a project that hopes to link rural farmers with markets across the country.

The group was formed in late March by five students. They manage the Facebook page of the project and are working on ways to put farmers’ fruits and vegetables in consumers’ hands.

The five founding team members – Doung Chandarith, 23; Rile Piton, 20; Vang Rattanakmealtey, 20; Ean Sreyleak, 22 and Heng Sotheavy, 21 – are seniors in university or have just graduated.

While they were thinking of how to help vulnerable farmers at the grassroots level, they came across Impact Hub Cambodia, an organisation which connects and enables young Cambodians to solve problems in the world through entrepreneurial initiatives.

Sotheavy and Piton tell The Post: “As we see, lots of farmers’ products, including vegetables and fruits are not selling during Covid-19. We were all friends before and asked each other who was interested and which part they would be able to cover.”

They penned a proposal seeking support and mentorship from Impact Hub.

“The borders have been closed and even in the country, farmers aren’t able to sell well. This is why we came up with the idea of creating this project to connect farmers with leftover products to local and urban markets,” says Chandarith.

The team at Covid Farmer Hacker also wants to safeguard farmers’ products against natural disasters and share new farming techniques through social media.

Chandarith, a medical student, broke down their mission in three steps. “In step one, we find interested members to plan a project.

“Step two, we manage the [Facebook] page, find a sponsor and start to publicly post to let people know more about us. We then start to share the farmers’ products and pass them on to those who are interested.

“In step three, when we are known by many people and supported by sponsors, we will go down to the community or provinces where agriculture has been severely impacted by Covid-19 and connect farmers and buyers through social media,” he says.

Sotheavy, who recently graduated from Cam Ed Business School with a degree in accounting and finance, says: “Now we only pass the information we have via Facebook. If we see farmers post pictures of their products, we will share and let people who are interested contact them directly.”

Chandarith says social media is the perfect avenue to drum up support and it was unnecessary to create a completely new platform.

Instead, if they manage to get sponsors for the project, they plan to use the resources to expand the rural farmer and consumer communities.

“If we get more sponsors, we want to have a bigger community to stay in close touch with them [the farmers],” he says.

During the past seven months, the team has worked on the project voluntarily. Although they’re not paid, Sotheavy says the real benefit is helping the farmers.

“The benefit was basically for the farmers so they can sell whatever they plant and help them with techniques in growing. For the buyers, they can buy and help support local products of good quality.

“We are a group of youths and we didn’t want anything besides inspiring the locals to grow and through us, you don’t need the middlemen. From the buyer to the farmers, they can directly contact each other,” she says.

The team is also focused on doing more field trips for research. “The most important thing is that we want to encourage farmers to continue planting and let them know that they can supply the agricultural demand of the country.

“Looking ahead, we don’t want to be just a group who helps to pass on information. We hope to help them by personally following up. We hope to see our agriculture self-sustain our country. If we enhance local farming, we may be able to reduce imports.

“We just want to encourage people to support local products because if we don’t, they won’t have the motivation. So we want to help each other,” Sotheavy says.

Civil Society Organizations Call for the Draft Law on Public Order to be Immediately Discarded

August 13, 2020 - Phnom Penh, 13 August 2020 – We, the undersigned national and international organizations and communities, call on the Royal Government of Cambodia (“RGC”) to immediately discard the repressive draft Law on Public Order and uphold its obligations under international human rights law. The draft law contains an extensive array of provisions that effectively criminalize the legitimate everyday activities of many within the Kingdom of Cambodia (“Cambodia”), in violation of their rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly and other protected human rights. If enacted, the draft law will become yet another piece of repressive legislation in a legal framework that severely undermines human rights.

The draft law has been written in an attempt to regulate public spaces and public behavior within those spaces. It covers aesthetics, sanitation, cleanliness, noise, and social values, all under the broad aim of maintaining “public order”. It endeavors to set out specific activities that are prohibited, lists a range of penalties that may be imposed for breaches, and grants unfettered enforcement powers to authorities across all levels of government, with the proclaimed objective of creating “a more civilized society”. We are gravely concerned about the multitude of overbroad and arbitrary provisions in the draft law which violate numerous human rights protections enshrined in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia (“the Constitution”) and human rights treaties to which Cambodia is a party, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“ICESCR”). Several of our key concerns are listed below, however the only way to remedy this unnecessary draft law is to discard it in its entirety.

1. Scope and purpose: The draft law is extensive in scope and includes such an expanse of prohibited actions that it would be virtually impossible to uniformly enforce, in contrast with longstanding universal rule of law principles. Art. 1 of the draft law states its purpose is “to ensure public order management by maintaining order, aesthetic value, sanitation, cleanliness of the environment, quietness, social stability, preservation of national tradition, and the dignity of citizens”. Many of these terms and categories are not defined, and are based on purported social objectives which are arbitrary, subjective and constantly changing. This lack of clarity leaves the primary justification for enforcing the law open to interpretation, making it impossible for the public to properly understand the law, predict what actions may contravene it, and comply with it. While public order is a legitimate aim under international human rights law - meaning that it can be relied upon to justify restrictions on some human rights in certain narrow circumstances - any restrictions in the name of public order must be necessary, proportionate, and the least restrictive means of realizing the aim.

2. Discrimination: The draft law disproportionately impacts certain marginalized groups, in contravention of anti-discrimination guarantees protected in the Constitution, ICCPR, ICESCR, and other binding human rights instruments. It negatively impacts economically disadvantaged members of society, as well as those who work in the informal economy, many of whom rely on activities prohibited by the draft law for their livelihoods. For example, Art. 11 prohibits “selling products on the roadsides that can affect public order”, a common source of income in Cambodia, while Art. 37(i) prohibits “all forms of begging”. Art. 11 also effectively prohibits homelessness, by banning the use of public space for “temporary shelters” without approval from the authorities. Everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living, and Cambodia currently lacks a system of social protection which can guarantee this right for the people most at risk in Cambodian society. Rather than supporting marginalized members of society, the draft law has the potential to further entrench poverty and economic inequality.

The draft law also contains provisions which seriously undermine the rights of individuals with mental health conditions, as well as facilitate discrimination and stigmatization. The draft law imposes arbitrary and unjustifiable restrictions on individuals with a so-called “mental disorder”, which is vaguely defined as “a change which results in the loss of the sense of right or wrong”. This definition lacks any legal or scientific basis and fails to require an expert medical diagnosis. It instead seems to determine an individual’s mental health on their ability to make a moral judgement, while failing to consider the severity of the “mental disorder”. It therefore fails to comply with international human rights standards for not determining what can amount to a “mental disorder” in accordance with internationally accepted medical standards. The draft law prohibits these individuals from “walk[ing]freely in public places” (Art. 25). This blanket restriction on the movement of a vast cohort of individuals, without requiring a determination as to whether it is absolutely necessary under the individual circumstances, impinges on the rights to liberty and freedom of movement as guaranteed by Art. 9 of the ICCPR, and violates rights protected under the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Cambodia has ratified. The draft law is deeply concerning as it strips people with mental health conditions of their most fundamental human rights and allows for blatant disability-based discrimination.

In addition to the above-mentioned groups, the draft law contains concerning provisions that could exacerbate discrimination against women (Art. 37, as analyzed below).

3. Freedom of peaceful assembly and association: The draft Law on Public Order raises serious concerns for the exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly and association in Cambodia. Arts. 6 and 30 require approval from authorities for the “use of public spaces”, and would permit authorities to stop an event if authorization has not been sought. In conjunction with Art. 48, which nullifies any existing, contrary provisions, the draft law effectively reverses the prior notification principle contained in Art. 5 and 7 of the Law on Peaceful Assembly and replaces it with a prior authorization requirement, in direct contravention of international human rights law, including under Art. 21 of the ICCPR. These provisions also provide grounds for the arbitrary interference that many individuals and associations already experience when holding events. In addition, Art. 31 of the draft law allows authorities to refuse or stop events based on six overbroad categories, including if the event causes “any hostility with the competent authorities” or “impact to public interests”, which is extremely broad and could be used to prohibit assemblies or events on the unfettered discretion of authorities without predictability or certainty in application and without due consideration for fundamental freedoms. Furthermore, Art. 33 prescribes a restriction on the number of attendees to events, not exceeding “two people within 1.20 square meters”. This arbitrary provision empowers authorities to illegitimately restrict peaceful assemblies or association activities by arbitrarily limiting the number of participants without requiring authorities to make an informed assessment as to whether it is necessary under the particular circumstances. Indigenous communities, grassroots associations, workers’ unions, and local activists depend on the ability to assemble to advocate for their rights, and will be severely harmed by such restrictive provisions. In the new General Comment 37 , the UN Human Rights Committee affirms that States cannot rely on vague definitions of public order to justify overbroad restrictions, as this draft law does. The Committee emphasizes that “public order” and “law and order” are not to be confused, with the latter requiring states to exercise a “significant degree of toleration” for disruption caused by peaceful assemblies.

4. Freedom of expression: The draft Law on Public Order also allows for arbitrary infringements on the right to freedom of expression. Firstly, the law prohibits “speaking loudly” (Art. 16) and imposes a blanket curfew on any unauthorized noise “from 12pm to 2pm and from 10pm to 5am” (Art. 17) without meeting the requirement of necessity for achieving the aim of public order, in violation of the ICCPR. Moreover, Art. 36 – which prohibits men from being shirtless in public and women from wearing clothes that are “too short” or “too see-through” that “affect the national tradition and dignity” – violates freedom of expression, undermines personal autonomy and fails to define innately subjective standards of dignity, thus opening the door to unequal enforcement. Art. 36 will also exacerbate discrimination against women, who face negative gender stereotypes and entrenched patriarchal societal norms. In Cambodia women have been subjected to threats and imprisonment for their choices in clothing, with one woman convicted of a crime related to her clothing already in 2020. Further, the Prime Minister has publicly blamed women’s clothing for provoking gender-based violence, including sex crimes. Art. 36 would add to this culture of ‘victim-blaming’ by effectively criminalizing women, including survivors of violence, for their clothing choices.

Ultimately, the draft law has the potential to severely restrict freedom of expression both online and offline. Art. 37 prohibits a broad range of unreasonably vague categories of expression where it affects “national tradition and dignity”, without elaborating on the standards of dignity to which the public will be held accountable to. This includes, for example, “exhibiting or disseminating writing or picture or using cursing words on social media”, “showing arrogant behavior” and “disseminating or posting writing, signs or pictures that represent any threat”. Extending the scope of the law to the online sphere gives rise to further concern due to the widespread repression of freedom of expression online in Cambodia, with 2020 baring witness to multiple arrests of individuals for expressing opinions online.

5. Penalties and enforcement: The prohibited activities in the draft law are subject to penalties ranging from “warnings” and “administrative penalties”, to “imprisonment and/or a fine”. Under the draft law an individual can be imprisoned for 1 – 6 days, and fined between 100,000 – 500,000 riels. The draft law fails to regulate the application of these penalties, enabling authorities to make discretionary determinations on the appropriate penalty for each prohibited activity, which risks misapplication, lack of uniformity in application, and lack of predictability in complying with and enforcing the law. Due to the draft law’s disproportionate targeting of economically disadvantaged people, it would impose fines on those who are least able to afford them. The grounds upon which imprisonment can be imposed are unacceptably vague, in violation of the principle of legality. Judging by international human rights standards, imprisonment is highly unlikely to be either a necessary or proportionate response to many breaches of this law, and thus is not an appropriate penalty.

Art. 6 raises concerns for the enforcement of the draft law as it empowers local authorities to “assign contractual officials to assist in maintaining public order”. “Security guards” or “para-police” hired by local authorities in Cambodia have a long track record of violently harassing individuals and human rights defenders seeking to exercise their rights, and are rarely held accountable. These contracted security forces operate in a legal vacuum, lacking regulation, accountability and training, and as such they represent a serious threat to the peaceful exercise of human rights.

The draft Law on Public Order has been released amid a crackdown on fundamental freedoms in Cambodia. Laws that grant overbroad and unfettered powers to the RGC are regularly misused to undermine human rights and target free speech. If brought into force, this draft law would further curtail the rights and freedoms of individuals in Cambodia to the detriment of the nation as a whole. We therefore call on the Royal Government of Cambodia to immediately discard the draft Law on Public Order in its entirety and uphold its obligations under international human rights law.

This joint statement is endorsed by:

1. Action Aid Cambodia (AAC)
2. Advocacy and Policy Institute (API)
3. Alliance for Conflict Transformation (ACT)
4. Amnesty International
5. Article 19
6. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
7. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
8. Banteay Srei
9. Beong Tunle Mrech Community
10. Boeung Trabek Community, Phnom Penh
11. Borei Keila Community, Phnom Penh
12. Bu Sra community, Mondulkiri province
13. Building Community Voices (BCV)
14. Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
15. Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM)
16. Cambodian Food And Service Workers Federation (CFSWF)
17. Cambodian Human Rights Action Coalition (CHRAC)
18. Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
19. Cambodia Indigenous Peoples Organization (CIPO)
20. Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
21. Cambodian Youth Network (CYN)
22. Child Rights Coalition Cambodia (CRC-Cambodia)
23. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
24. Coalition for Integrity and Social Accountability (CISA)
25. Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC)
26. Community Peace-Building Network (CPN)
27. Equitable Cambodia (EC)
28. Former Boeung Kak Women Network Community
29. Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC)
30. Human Rights Watch (HRW)
31. Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA)
32. Indradevi Association (IDA)
33. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
34. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
35. International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX)
36. Khmer Kampuchea Krom for Human Rights and Development Association (KKKHRDA)
37. Khmer Thavrak
38. Khmer Youth Association (KYA)
39. Klahaan
40. Koun Kriel Community, Oddar Meanchey province
41. Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of Naga World (L.R.S.U)
42. Land Conflict Community, Phnom Krenh Village, Pailin province
43. Lor Peang Community, Kampong Chhnang province
44. Minority Rights Organization (MIRO)
45. Mother Nature Cambodia (MN)
46. Natural Resources Protection Community in Krakor district, Pursat province
47. Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC)
48. Not1More (N1M)
49. Phnom Bat Community
50. Phnom Kram Community, Siem Reap province
51. Phum 23 Community
52. Ponlok Khmer (PKH)
53. Prek Chik Village, Chi Kha Kraom Commune Land Community, Koh Kong province
54. Prey Peay Community, Kampot province
55. Railway Station, Toul Sangkae A Community
56. Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT)
57. SOS International Airport Community
58. Tany 197 Community, Chikhor Leur commune, Koh Kong province
59. The Cambodian NGO Committee on CEDAW (NGO-CEDAW)
60. Thma Da commune, Pursat province
61. Transparency International Cambodia (TIC)
62. Trapeang Sangkae Community, Kampot province
63. Women Peace Makers (WPM)
64. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
65. Youth Council of Cambodia (YCC)

PDF format: Download full statement in English - Download full statement in Khmer

Release Imprisoned Activists and End Crackdown Against Young Cambodians

September 9, 2020 - We, the undersigned civil society groups, condemn the arrests of seven young activists over the past few days, and call for all charges against those imprisoned to be dropped immediately. We urge the government to end its campaign of fear and repression against peaceful youth and environmental human rights defenders, and ensure the rights of the Cambodian people to peacefully advocate for themselves, their families and their communities are respected.
On Monday September 7 Khmer Thavrak youth group member Tha Lavy, 19, was arrested while stepping out of a tuk-tuk at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park on his way to a peaceful demonstration at the designated protest space calling for the release of imprisoned union leader Rong Chhun. Another Khmer Thavrak member, Eng Malai, was followed by police from the protest and arrested that same evening after leaving the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights.

Their detention followed the arrests on Thursday September 3 of three young environmental activists. The trio were planning a one-woman march to raise awareness about the filling-in of Boeung Tamok lake in the capital’s north. Their names are Long Kunthea, Phoung Keorasmey and Thun Ratha. On Sunday September 6 the three were charged with incitement to commit a felony or disturb social order under Articles 494 and 495 of the Criminal Code and imprisoned. These charges carry a sentence of up to two years in prison. The youngest, Keorasmey, is just 19 years old.

Also on Sunday September 6, ordained Buddhist monk Koet Saray and Khmer Student Intelligent League Association vice-president Mean Prommony were arrested by police over plans for a peaceful assembly in Freedom Park to call for the release of union leader Rong Chhun, Khmer Win Party president Soung Sophorn and Khmer Thavrak members Chhoeun Daravy and Hun Vannak following their arrests in August. Venerable Saray was defrocked on Monday afternoon, and both men were also charged with incitement and sent to pre-trial detention in Phnom Penh’s Correctional Centre 1.

Police also arrested 22-year-old rapper Kea Sokun in Siem Reap on Friday September 4. He was charged the next day with incitement in connection with a four-month-old song “Dey Khmer” – Khmer Land. The song, which had more than 1.5 million views on YouTube as of his arrest, spoke about Cambodia's borders. Sokun remains in pre-trial detention in Siem Reap.

This latest wave of arrests follows the detention of six more people who were charged with incitement and imprisoned in August while also calling for Rong Chhun’s release. They included Chum Puthy, Chhoung Pheng, Sar Kanika, Chhoeun Daravy, Hun Vannak and Soung Sophorn.

The Interior Ministry released a statement on Monday instructing authorities to take legal action against members of the Khmer Thavrak youth group and Mother Nature Cambodia environmental movement, accusing the groups of causing social chaos. With the detention of Malai and Lavy, a total of ten people have so far been arrested for participating in peaceful demonstrations calling for Rong Chhun's release.

We are extremely concerned about the use of incitement charges as a weapon to silence civil debate and strangle civic engagement. We call on the government to immediately drop all charges against the activists it has arrested and to halt its crackdown against youth and environmental groups.

This joint statement is endorsed by;
1. Activities for Environment Community (AEC)
2. Affiliated Network for Social Accountability (ANSA)
3. Alliance for Conflict Transformation (ACT)
4. Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia (BWTUC)
5. Building Community Voices (BCV)
6. Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
7. Cambodian Food and Service Workers’ Federation (CFSWF)
8. Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
9. Cambodian Informal Economy Workers Association (CIWA)
10. Cambodia’s Independent Civil Servants Association (CICA)
11. Cambodian Institute for Democracy (CID)
12. Cambodian Labor Confederation (CLC)
13. Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
14. Cambodian Tourism and Service Workers Federation (CTSWF)
15. Cambodian Volunteers for Society (CVS)
16. Cambodian Youth Network (CYN)
17. Cambodia Tourism Workers Union Federation (CTWUF)
18. Cambodia Youth and Monk Network (CYMN)
19. Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL)
20. Coalition for Integrity and Social Accountability (CISA)
21. Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (C.CAWDU)
22. Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community Association (CCFC)
23. Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL)
24. Community Peace-Building Network (CPN)
25. Equitable Cambodia (EC)
26. Free Trade Union of Workers of Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC)
27. Indradevi Association (IDA)
28. Khmer Kampuchea Krom For Human Rights and Development Association (KKKHRDA)
29. Labour Right Supported Union Khmer Employee of Nagaworld (L.R.S.U)
30. Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC)
31. Peace Bridge Organisation (PBO)
32. People Center for Development and Peace (PDP)
33. Ponlok Khmer (PKH)
34. Rural Cambodia Technological Support Organisation (RCTSO)
35. Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT)
36. Social Action for Community and Development (SACD)
37. The Cambodian Center for the Protection of Children's Rights (CCPCR)
38. Transparency International Cambodia (TI)
39. Youth Resources Development Program (YRDP)

PDF format: Download full statement in English - Download full statement in Khmer
MP3 format: Listen to audio version in Khmer

International Day of Peace, September 21,2020 No Land Rights No Peace!

Press release: In 1981 the United Nations established the "International Day of Peace" to commemorate and strengthen the peaceful settlement of all peoples and nations around the world.  September 21, in every year, people from all classes, celebrating this main event is about to global day that can hold privately and communities locally until the national level in order to spur global government efforts to  end conflicts and promote peace, freedom and respect for human rights accordingly.

More than 1100 households of farmers and people from various communities who have been affected on pro-long land disputes, are able to celebrate the 39th anniversary of International Day of Peace which will be taken place on September 21, 2020 with the dubbed “No Land Rights, No Peace ”in Phnom Penh in order to Celebrate Peace Day and promote the global peace in relation the land disputes resolution process, human rights and basic of human rights as well. The overall aims of the event of IDP are about to:

Ministry dismisses protestors, says they lack legal basis for land claims

The Ministry of Land Management yesterday said that the villagers who came to protest outside their offices in the capital over land disputes either had already had resolutions delivered or lacked any legal basis for complaint.
The statement came after over 800 villagers came in five different groups from  Koh Kong province, seeking intervention.

The first group consisted of 15 families who live in Koh Kong’s Sre Ambel district and are seeking invention over a land dispute with Heng Huy Agriculture Group Co Ltd.
However, the ministry said that they already found a solution for them on January 22, with only one villager – named Pav Nhoung – not accepting the deal.

The second group consisted of 197 families who live in Sre Ambel district’s Chi Khor Krom commune, who are also seeking intervention over a land dispute with the same company.

The ministry said that the 15 families had already withdrawn their complaint and could not resubmit and the other families did not have the correct land ownership documents to have any claim on the land in question.

The third group consisted of 743 families who live across six communes in Sre Ambel district, who are seeking intervention over land disputes with Koh Kong Plantation Co Ltd and Koh Kong Sugar Industry Co Ltd.

The ministry said the issue has already been resolved with the company and that villagers who are landless should apply to the ministry to ask for a social land concession.
The fourth group consisted of 19 families who the ministry also suggested apply for
the social land concession.

The fifth group consisted of 33 families seeking intervention over a land dispute with Union Development Group Co Ltd.

The ministry said that a resolution has been found for 13 families already and talks with the other 20 families are still ongoing.

“Overall, the demands of the groups have either been met or lack a legal basis for a resolution,” the ministry statement said.

Protestors initially gathered in front of the Ministry of Land Management in Chamkar Mon district and had planned to continue on foot to the house of Prime Minister Hun Sen near the Independence Monument, however, they were blocked by authorities.

Pav Nhoung, a villager from Kong Kong province, said that they went to gather in front of the ministry on World Peace Day in order to ask for help to resolve their land disputes, under the theme “No land rights, no peace.”

“We urge the Minister of Land Management to help solve our land disputes,” he said.

According to a joint statement by the protesting villagers, in order to mark the International Day of Peace under the theme “No Land Right, No Peace”, the   protestors jointly submited land petitions to the ministry addressing their land disputes.

They also pledged to work collectively within their networks and share the challenges of the negative impacts of land loss, human rights violations, climate change and the lack of food security in response to the common needs and concerns felt nationwide.

Koh Kong land disputes largely ‘resolved’

The Ministry of Land Management, Urban planning and Construction said some protesters who claimed to represent 1,217 families allegedly involved in land disputes with four companies in Koh Kong province have no legal basis to seek more compensation.

The ministry said some of the land disputes had already been resolved by relevant authorities.

The response came after five groups of protesters gathered to seek a solution at the ministry on Monday.

In a letter issued hours after the protest, the ministry said the groups were from Sre Ambel, Thma Bang and Botum Sakor districts in Koh Kong.

Some of them, it said, claimed to have been involved in land disputes with Koh Kong Plantation and Koh Kong Sugar Industry Co Ltd, while others were allegedly locked in a row with Heng Huy Agriculture Group and Union Development Group Co Ltd (UDG).

The letter said some residents had no names to lay claim to the land because they did not fill out fact sheets as announced by the ministry in 2017. Some, it said, had no ownership documents.

Some of the families demanded land registration, while others requested they be granted social land concessions. Some others, it said, demanded the return of their land.

“Thirty-three families filed complaints to demand land from UDG. Having checked it, the ministry found that 13 families had already received solutions. Another 20 families were not among affected residents,” the letter read.

The groups also included residents from other provinces, including Tbong Khmum and Svay Rieng, who demanded a solution to land dispute in their respective provinces.

They blocked a road in front of the ministry and demanded to meet Minister Chea Sophara.

However, Phnom Penh municipal police forces broke up the gathering and instead allowed them to stage a sit-in on the roadside. They eventually returned home later that day after delivering their petitions.

Sam Vuthy, who claimed to represent 33 families allegedly involved in a land dispute with UDG, said they had lost a total of 279ha to the company.

While acknowledging that some of the 33 families had received a solution, he said it was not a proper compromise given the size of the land they had lost to the company.

He said some of the residents received only 1-2ha as part of a solution reached in 2010. Some others received land measuring 24m by 80m, while others, whom he claimed had lost between 8ha to over 10ha, received only $400 to $500 instead of land.

“I have 9ha, but it [UDG] gave me only $480 and gave me back 2.5ha. If we refused to take it, we will get nothing at all. At that time, they evicted us from our land. They used Military Police, security and environment forces to evict us,” he said.

Bun Sarin, a 56-year-old who claimed to have lost 12ha to UDG, said he had land documents to prove his ownership.

He said the documents were recognised by village and commune authorities. He also received a letter from the company recognising his land ownership when it offered compensation.

“The documents were certified by the authorities. The land has clear boundaries and thumbprints between people having land adjacent to each other.

“They asked the authorities to acknowledge the thumbprints. Now, we demand the company and relevant ministries provide land for us in compensation. But if they want to offer financial compensation, there need to be negotiations based on market prices,” he said.

Chhim Saphan, a 65-year-old who claimed to represent 843 families, said they renewed their protests after submitting their petitions to the ministry many times to no avail.

“The main purpose that we come today is to ask [Sophara] when he will solve the disputes for us. We want an answer. If we don’t get a response as to when the dispute will be solved, we will go back to stay on our respective land as a last resort.

“We set up tents because [the firm]has stopped growing sugar cane on the land since the past four to five years already,” he said.

Saphan said before the dispute started in 2009, the families had a total of 1,720ha. He claimed they had grown rice and other crops on the land since the 1980s and had ownership documents recognised by village and commune authorities.

Botum Sakor district governor Hak Leng declined to provide details of the land dispute involving the 33 families, saying the row started before he took office.

“This is an old case left behind since the last two governors, so I cannot comment on it. The land management ministry knows it better than us because citizens have long filed complaints with it,” he said.

Ta Noun commune chief Yoeng Vang Vireak could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Am Sam Ath, the head of monitoring for rights group Licadho, said while he acknowledged that the land dispute in Koh Kong had already been solved by the provincial authorities and the ministry several times, he called for a speedy solution to the remaining cases.

Citing affected residents, he said some had not received proper solutions while others had received no compromise at all. The ministry, he said, had responded either by saying the protesting villagers did not have enough documents or that the disputes had already been solved.

He urged the ministry to get to the bottom of the matter and provide a solution acceptable to all parties.

“We have to look into the root cause of the problems faced by each family, so they can be solved immediately. Once we figure it out, we can allow them to come in and solve the problems instead of letting it linger for too long,” he said.

Thong Chan Dara, the Koh Kong provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, agreed that some of the protesters involved in the Koh Kong land disputes had received a proper solution, though he said some had accepted little compensation because they had no choice.

He said those who received proper solutions lived on the actual land and owned houses in the villages and communes where the dispute arose. He said others who owned houses outside the villages and communes did not receive solutions for the land they lost.

“The authorities said they lacked ownership paperwork. They lacked the documentation because they just occupied the land,” he said.

However, Koh Kong provincial land management department director Ros Viravuth emphasised that the dispute had been solved already. He said some of those who had received a solution incited others to file complaints.

“I don’t know for sure either, but a new group of people who came to seek a solution just claimed they belonged to this group or that group,” he said.

World Peace Day, Police Block Hundreds of Protesters

Prime Minister Hun Sen urged the country to commit to protecting peace as hundreds of land disputants protested in Phnom Penh on Monday, saying that while they remain marginalized, threatened and “in tears,” the people don’t have peace.

Land protesters from the provinces of Koh Kong, Preah Sihanouk, Svay Rieng and Tbong Khmum blocked traffic in front of the Land Management Ministry for at least 20 minutes, with reporters estimating that as many as 1,100 people participated in the demonstration.

About 50 police officers and district security guards prevented the protesters from entering the ministry’s compound, and pushed them to the opposite side of the road. The protesters were later blocked from marching to Hun Sen’s house.

Sam Chamnan, from Tbong Khmum, said people in his village had lost community land to Harmony Win Investment over the past decade. Men Davy, from Svay Rieng, said she represented 152 families locked in a dispute with a Chinese company since 2014. Kan Chhorn, from Koh Kong, said his Sre Ambel district villagers had no land left to farm after 10 years fighting with a sugar plantation.

The villagers chose the International Day of Peace to protest so the government could finally fulfill its promise to bring peace to the country by resolving their disputes, Chamnan said.

But rather than peace, land protesters had been experiencing only arrests and threats, he said. “We have no rights,” Chamnan added.

Davy said it was time for the government to act rather than simply repeat the word “peace.”

“Today, I think Samdech will find a solution for people, in order to make our country have peace as it was promised,” she said, using an honorific for Hun Sen. “We think there’s no peace. There is only peace in their mouths because people are still in tears in all the provinces.” ​

Chhorn said he didn’t want to have to protest. “I am poor. … If I were rich, I wouldn’t come,” he said. “I’m a farmer but I don’t have the land to grow crops.”

City Hall spokesperson Met Measpheakdey said authorities had prevented people from marching to maintain public order and avoid traffic jams.

“They shouldn’t need to gather and disrupt public order” if the aim was simply to submit petitions, he said.

Meanwhile, to mark the International Day of Peace, Hun Sen recalled the country’s past struggles and said only peace could be the foundation for development.

“If we lose peace, we will lose everything. … Commit strongly to protecting the peace that we’ve just achieved,” he said in a letter issued on Saturday. “Endure, be strong and remain intact forever. Do not allow any reactionary force to destroy it at any cost.”

Acknowledging the economic challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, Hun Sen said his two priorities were maintaining stability in politics and the microfinance sector.

The country’s microfinance debt hit $7.3 billion in June to more than 2 million borrowers, according to the Cambodia Microfinance Association, with an average microloan size of $3,804 that researchers have said is the highest in the world.

“The great achievements that Cambodia has achieved have never been applauded or praised by some superpowers and Western countries, which have a specific agenda to use Cambodia as a stepping stone to serve their political ambitions,” Hun Sen continued in his letter.

In a statement issued on Monday while protests were ongoing, the Land Management Ministry said about 800 disputants from Koh Kong had no legal basis for their complaints, rejecting their petition for intervention in disputes with sugar plantations Heng Huy, Koh Kong Plantation and Koh Kong Sugar Industry as well as Chinese-owned tourism resort Union Development Group.

UDG — a massive, $3.8-billion development that spans 45,000 hectares and 20 per cent of Cambodia’s coastline — was sanctioned by the U.S. last week over alleged human rights abuses and forced evictions, following accusations that it could be turned into a Chinese military base.