CBOs&SOCIAL MEDIA

Joint Statement The Effects of the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations And the Process of its Amendment

The under-signed associations and non-governmental organizations, which are actively operating in Cambodia, express serious concern about the challenges of the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO), which hinder the freedom to implement their activities. The law is understood as imposing obligations and abusing individual autonomy. We perceive that the law set the obligations which violent entity autonomy of associations and non-governmental organizations since it requires them to submit reports to the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and to comply with complicated taxation procedures. The wording of the Law also enables state officials to interpret provisions based on a political situation and circumstances in a manner, which can cause confusion and implementation not reflective of the contents of the Law. 

These obligations and abuses of individual autonomy violate the existing Civil Code and international conventions on human rights, which Cambodia has ratified.

After experiencing these effects and challenges, CSOs, including associations and non-governmental organizations have undertaken a thorough study and discussion of each article and have already submitted their recommendations on proposed amendments to the Ministry of Interior. So far, representatives of civil society organization groups have submitted proposed amendments to 14 articles including articles 1, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 20, 24, 25, 26, 30, 31, 32 and Article 35. It is also noted that CSOs have submitted their joint proposed amendment in the second meeting with MOI on 03 December 2019. Consequently, there is no contrasting proposed amendment submitted to MOI. 

The associations and non-governmental organizations strongly urge the governmental working group on LANGO amendments to take the following steps:

  1. Creation of a roadmap indicating specific timelines for the process of amending the LANGO.
  2. Accept concerns of CSOs, including associations and non-governmental organizations, and speed up the amendment process to ensure CSOs’ freedom and rights in the process of national development. 
  3. Establish separate meetings and discussions with various groups that have submitted proposed amendments to the LANGO.

For further information

1. Mr. YONG Kim Eng, PDP-Center President, 016 828 211 

2. Mr. Soeng Sen Karuna, Spoke person of ADHOC, 086 324 666

3. Mr. KORN Savang, Monitoring and Advocacy Coordinator, 011 884 840

Here are the associations and organizations endorsed this statement:

1. Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL)

2. Cambodian Human Right and Development Association (ADHOC)

3. People Center for Development and Peace (PDP-CENTER)

4. Youth Resource Development Program (YRDP)

5. Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (សង់ត្រាល់-Central)

6. Cambodian Food and Service Workers’ Federation (CFSWF)

7. Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM)

8. Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC-Association)

9. Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA)

10. Cambodian Human Rights Action Coalition (CHRAC)

11. Affiliated Network for Social Accountability-Cambodia (ANSA)

12. Khmer Kampuchea Krom for Human Rights and Development Association (KKKHRDA)

13. Cambodian Volunteers for Society (CVS)

14. Khmer Youth Association (KYA)

15. Coalition for Integrity and Social Accountability (CISA)

16. Youth Coalition for Unity and Development (YCUD)

17. Alliance for Conflict Transformation (ACT)

18. Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (C.CAWDU)

19. Peace Bridges Organization (PBO)

20. Transparency International Cambodia (TIC)

21. Cambodian Alliance of Trade Union (CATU)

22. Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia​​ (NICFEC)

23. Sahmakum Teang Tnaut​ (STT)

24. Cambodian's Independent Civil-Servants Association (CICA)

25. Cambodian Institute for Democracy​ (CID)

26. Cambodian Grassroots Cross-sector Network (CGCN)

27. Youth Council of Cambodia (YCC)

28. Cambodian Youth Network (CYN)

Villagers protest monk’s eviction

More than 40 villagers on Saturday gathered at the O’Damrey pagoda in Preah Sihanouk province to protest the eviction of a monk and the removal of the pagoda.

Morn Sina, a villager representative, said the provincial monk authority and the provincial cults and religion department want the pagoda removed so the land could be returned to Stung Hav district authorities.

Mr Sina said the pagoda is small and was built 20 years ago. He said villagers invited monk Mann Pheakdey to live in the pagoda in case villagers needed religious services.

“The provincial monk chief and the provincial cults and religion director asked monk chief Mann Pheakdey to provide a thumbprint for an eviction letter on Saturday,” Mr Sina said.

He added that the land the pagoda was built on has been contested since 1999 by rich and powerful people who want it.

“I think that it is unjust that the provincial monk authority and the provincial cults and religion department director are forcing a monk chief to leave from that pagoda,” he said.

Venerable Pheakdey, the monk, said he was invited to live in the pagoda in 2009. He said that when he first arrived, he was one of two monks. However, due to the dispute with the district, the other monk left.

“On Saturday, I was told to provide my thumbprint on the letter and leave the pagoda,” he said, noting that if he did not agree, he would be defrocked.

“I am not demanding anything, but please all sides must wait for a resolution on the land to be provided by the court because this issue has yet been solved,” he added.

Ven Pheakdey said villagers requested provincial Governor Yun Min to intervene in the case, in which Mr Min replied that the provincial monk authority and the provincial cults and religion department must wait for a court decision.

“The provincial governor has allowed me to stay in the pagoda until the land issue is solved,” he said.

Kang Dinath, director of the provincial cults and religion department, said he was not forcing Ven Pheakdey to vacate the premises.

“We did not force him to leave, we only requested that he leave because the land is being disputed,” Mr Dinath said. “The place is not an official pagoda because the government has not sanctioned it.”

Mr Dinath said he will comply with Mr Min’s instruction.

“The provincial governor has requested us to wait,” he said. “The monk is allowed to stay there.”

Mr Min could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Families fear Koh Rong land claim

Dozens of families in Preah Sihanouk province are concerned they will lose their land after hearing that a tycoon is seeking the local authority’s approval to transfer ownership of over 500ha to him, while the families claim the actual area of land he owns is only some 5ha.

Suy Srey Mom, a member of one of the 42 families, told The Post on Sunday that late last month, Oknha Sok Bun supplied documents to the local authority as proof of ownership of the land in Koh Rong commune’s Prey Svay village.

The documents say the land, which he purchased from a man named Ma Sy who came to live in the village in 2002, measures 5,000m by 1,050m.

However, the local authority noticed some irregularities and has so far refused to sign the documents and acknowledge his land ownership.

“According to Ma Sy’s wife and the local authority, the land that Ma Sy sold to a Phnom Penh resident covered only 500m by 105m, not 5,000m by 1,050m. This is what worried local residents and local officials,” Srey Mom said.

Hean Sok Khay, another villager, who has owned more than 3ha of farm and residential land since she came to live in the village in 2012, said that in the middle of last year, Bun and his group came to measure land in the area, but the measurement process was not finalised.

“The government granted official land titles to my family and more than 40 other families in 2015. I don’t know why the Okhna produced fake documents to try and take over our land,” she said.

She said that on Friday, people from her village submitted a petition to Preah Sihanouk Provincial Hall seeking intervention from provincial governor Yun Min to provide justice for the villagers.

Prey Svay village chief Keo Pov and Koh Rong commune chief Seng Hour Leang told The Post that they became suspicious after reviewing Bun’s documents, having been asked to provide signatures to confirm the size of the land he had purchased.

“No one who lives in my village has land covering anything like that area. Never mind 500ha, no one even owns 10ha of land, so I cannot sign the documents. It’s highly irregular,” said Pov.

Hour Leang told The Post on Sunday: “We accept that Oknha Sok Bun owns land in that area covering some 5ha.

“The case has been taken to the provincial authority by the villagers, so I hope there will be an intervention to ascertain the truth. I hope the provincial authority won’t ignore this problem,” he said.

On Sunday, The Post tried to reach Bun through a phone number obtained by a local resident. We asked a number of questions – including where the 500ha were purchased from – a social land concession, an economic land concession, or from local residents and what were the intended development projects – but the person hung up the phone.

Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun told The Post on Sunday that when buying and selling real estate, documents should be reviewed carefully.

“In truth, I don’t know the history of the land dispute in this area. Maybe the buyer bought from many previous landowners, and so collectively now owns 500ha."

“However, if he purchased the land from only one person as the villagers and local authorities have claimed, he should face criminal charges for faking public documents. The important point is whether or not the villagers file a lawsuit at the court to investigate."

“If they just submit a petition to national or provincial authorities seeking intervention, it will be difficult to end the dispute,” he said.

Kampong Speu sugar company villagers protest at Land Management Ministry

Nearly 700 people from different communities in Kampong Speu province protested in front of the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction on Thursday, seeking a solution to their long-running land dispute with three sugar companies.

The villagers petitioned the ministry to speed up the settlement for the disputants from 14 villages in Oral district’s Trapaing Chou commune, three in Rasmey Samaki commune and six in Thpong district’s Omlaing commune.

They have been embroiled in a land dispute since 2010 with Phnom Penh Sugar Company, Kampong Speu Sugar, and Sugar Plantation, the petition states. The former is owned by tycoon Ly Yong Phat, whereas the existence of the other two could not be ascertained.

In 2010, more than 1,500 families were evicted from the land they had cultivated since the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979 to make way for the company’s mega-plantation.

Yub Noeun, a Trapaing Chou commune resident, said she had lost 3ha of land since 2010, adding that she wanted to be compensated $5,000 per hectare instead of the $500 payout for each family which was given by Phnom Penh Sugar in 2016.

Seng Sokhom, who represents the disputants from Oral district, said 20 people were invited to have a dialogue regarding their dispute with a ministry working group.

The protesters, he said, agreed on the ministry’s idea to involve the communities in finding solutions.

“They agreed to work with the representatives [of the communities]. We see that the ministry has softened its attitude. It previously rejected our [involvement]in dispute resolution.”

Another representative Sok Siengheng said previous settlements were made without any participation from the communities.

“The ministry asked us to set a date for them to conduct a visit [to our communities],” she said.

A meeting note seen by The Post on Thursday confirmed that a ministry working group will conduct visits to the respective communities after Khmer New Year.

They will meet with the disputants and collect information from them, it continued.

Ministry spokesman Seng Lot and representatives from Phnom Penh Sugar Company could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Forcibly Displaced Cambodians File Historic Lawsuit against Asia’s Largest Sugar Producer

(April 2, 2018) - Displaced farmers from Cambodia have filed a landmark class-action lawsuit against the Thai sugar giant Mitr Phol. The legal complaint was filed in a Thai civil court by two plaintiffs representing a class of approximately 3000 people who were violently displaced and dispossessed of their land and livelihoods in five remote villages in northwestern Cambodia to clear the way for a Mitr Pohl sugarcane plantation between 2008 and 2009. Mitr Phol, the world’s fourth-largest sugar producer, supplies global brands including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Nestle and Mars.

This is the first ever class-action lawsuit filed in the Thai courts by plaintiffs from another country for abuses committed by a Thai company outside of Thailand. The suit alleges that Mitr Phol’s operation in Cambodia’s Oddar Meanchey province resulted in violent forced evictions, burning of homes, looting of crops and livestock and the seizure of land that was legally held by local farmers. Forests inside the company’s land concessions that local communities relied upon for their livelihoods were illegally logged. Those who resisted were threatened, arrested and imprisoned.

“We filed this lawsuit because Mitr Phol took our land, our harvest, our access to the forest, and our children’s opportunities to go to school,” said one of the affected community members, who requested anonymity due to threats to her safety.

Landless and unable to make a living, many of the families have become deeply impoverished.

“Since Mitr Pohl took my land, my family and I have suffered tremendously. My house was burned down. I was arrested without reason, and as a result my family had nothing to eat and had to collect trash to survive. To this day, I have no land or house,” said Ma Okchoeurn, another affected person.

Following a two-year investigation of the case, the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand found Mitr Phol directly responsible for human rights violations committed in conjunction with its operations in Cambodia. The land grab led to the “collapse of the community,” former commission chairman Niran Phitakwatchara said at a press conference in 2015. The commission’s final report held that the company “must compensate and redress the damages caused to affected people.”

Mitr Phol told the commission that it would compensate affected people in accordance with international standards but has failed to do so.

The legal complaint agues that a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would be in the public interest, because it would make Thai companies more likely to refrain from violating human rights in foreign countries -- a current risk to the country’s image. Such a ruling would also encourage the Thai government to take its extraterritorial human rights obligations seriously and sanction Thai companies that commit abuses overseas.

The displaced families have spent years pursuing justice, including repeated unsuccessful attempts to engage with Mitr Phol, which closed its operations in Cambodia in 2015.

In 2011, the displaced families lodged a complaint against Mitr Phol with Bonsucro, the sugar industry sustainability initiative. Instead of holding member company Mitr Phol accountable for violations of its code of conduct, Bonsucro instead presented the sugar producer with its annual sustainability award in 2015. Bonsucro has yet to address a complaint that was resubmitted to the group against Mitr Phol in 2016.

Coca-Cola, which has counted Mitr Phol as one of its largest global cane suppliers, investigated an NGO complaint about the case after the company announced a policy of “zero tolerance” for land grabbing in its supply chain in 2013. However, despite years of purported “engagement” by Coke and inaction by Mitr Phol, the U.S. beverage giant has failed to end its supply relationship with Mitr Phol.

“It’s time for the big sugar buyers to put their human rights rhetoric into practice and cut off suppliers that commit such gross violations,” said David Pred, Executive Director of Inclusive Development International, which supported the communities in filing the class action. “Coca-Cola garnered enormous public relations points for its land rights pledge, but when put to the test, the company has shown remarkable tolerance for a top supplier that torched people’s homes and left hundreds of families destitute.”

The Legal Rights and Environmental Protection Lawyers Advocacy Association and the Community Resource Centre Foundation are representing the plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit.

More details about the case are available here: 

https://www.inclusivedevelopment.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Mitr-Phol-Class-Action-Case-Brief.pdf

Officials deny cutting off Sesan Dam communes

May Titthara / Khmer Times

Stung Treng provincial hall has issued a letter refuting claims that authorities blocked access to flooded communities being affected by ongoing tests to the Lower Sesan II dam.

Local villagers in Kbal Romeas and Sre Ko commune have been battling floods due to heavy rains and the closing of the dam’s doors for technical tests.

Some villagers had reported that authorities blocked access to their villages in the communes, potentially endangering their lives if they were in need of emergency help.

According to a Stung Treng provincial hall letter issued yesterday, the claims are baseless.

“To protect their security, the authorities asked some visitors to travel back to their home provinces,” the letter explained. “Those visitors had come without proper preparation for the floods after being invited by some NGOs.”

Stung Treng provincial hall spokesman Men Kong said some villagers who still remain in the communes after refusing compensation from the dam builders to move have misinterpreted the police presence on the roads leading to their villages.

“In fact, we were preparing to help them during the floods,” he said. “Many foreigners also visit that area and don’t fully understand the flooding situation, so who will be responsible for their safety? Only the authorities can do so, which is why some were not allowed into the communes.”

Fort Kheun, a villager who has refused to abandon his ancestral lands, said the explanation provided by government officials is false.

Mr Kheun said visitors to the communes were not blocked for their safety, but rather so that they could not document the hardships being faced by villagers.

Soeung Sen Karona, a senior investigator for Adhoc who went to assess the situation, said authorities were focussed on blocking access to the communes for NGO workers and media members.

“They are trying to make the villagers’ lives difficult so they’ll accept compensation and leave,” he said.

The dam’s construction is scheduled to be completed in 2019 at a total estimated cost of $816 million.

Three companies are involved in the dam: Cambodia’s Royal Group owns 39 percent, China’s Hydrolancing International Energy has a 51 percent stake and Vietnam’s EVN International owns 10 percent.

When it is complete it will generate 400 megawatts of power, which will supply five provinces with electricity – Stung Treng, Kampong Cham, Kratie, Preah Vihear, and Ratanakkiri, ending their dependence on electricity from Laos.

Civil Society Calls for Justice for Tep Vanny at Appeal Court

July 27, 2017 - We, the undersigned civil society groups, call on the Court of Appeal to overturn the unjust conviction of Ms. Tep Vanny on charges of intentional violence with aggravating circumstances. This was based on her peaceful activism at a 2013 protest, for which she received a draconian sentence of two years and six months’ imprisonment on 23 February 2017. The Court of Appeal will hear Ms. Tep Vanny's appeal against conviction tomorrow. On 15 August 2017, Ms. Tep Vanny will have spent one year in detention; her imprisonment is a clear attempt to silence one of Cambodia’s most fearless and outspoken defenders of human rights ahead of the national elections in July 2018.

Tomorrow’s appeal is one of three years-old cases punitively reactivated against Ms. Tep Vanny over the course of the past year. In August 2016 the prosecutor of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court reactivated the long-dormant charges of intentional violence with aggravating circumstances against Ms. Tep Vanny while she was in pre-trial detention prior to her spurious conviction on other charges for taking part in a “Black Monday” protest to call for the release of the “Freethe5KH” detainees, who were being held in arbitrary pre-trial detention at the time. The case under appeal dates back to Ms. Tep Vanny’s participation in a 2013 peaceful protest in front of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house, during which a group of Boeung Kak Lake activists called for the release of a detained fellow community member. This protest had ended in violence against protesters at the hands of Daun Penh security guards, in which Ms. Tep Vanny herself was injured. On 23 February 2017, Ms. Tep Vanny was convicted on these charges and sentenced to 30 months in prison and a fine of five million riel (about US$1,250), as well as being ordered to pay compensation totaling nine million riel (about US$2,250) to the plaintiffs, two Daun Penh security guards.

Ms. Tep Vanny’s trial did not comply with international standards for fair trial rights: no credible evidence was presented to justify the charges brought against her and neither the plaintiffs nor any prosecution witnesses gave live testimony at either of the two hearings, preventing cross-examination. Community members outside the court faced unprovoked violence from para-police and, following delivery of the verdict, riot police entered the court room and physically restrained a number of defense witnesses.

The re-opening of these charges appears to be a politically motivated attempt to restrict and punish her work as a land activist and human rights defender, as part of the Cambodian authorities’ ongoing crackdown on dissenting voices. Peaceful assembly and free expression are not crimes, and human rights defenders should not be penalised for peacefully exercising their fundamental freedoms. We call on the Court of Appeal to exercise its independence and rectify the injustice of Ms. Tep Vanny’s flawed trial by overturning her conviction and sentence. We call on the Cambodian authorities to cease their judicial harassment of Ms. Tep Vanny, as well as other Boeung Kak Lake activists, and to release her from prison.

This joint statement is endorsed by:

1. Amnesty International

2. Boeung Kak Community

3. Boeung Trabek Community

4. Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)

5. Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)

6. Cambodian Independent Teacher Association (CITA)

7. Cambodian Indigenous Youth Association (CIYA)

8. Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)

9. Cambodian Youth Network

10. Coalition for Integrity & Social Accountability

11. Community Legal Education Center

12. Equitable Cambodia (EC)

13. FIDH, in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

14. Forum Asia

15. Human Rights Watch​​ (HRW)

16. Indigenous Youth at Prome Community, Preah Vihear Province

17. Indradevi Association (IDA)

18. Land Community, I Village Preah Sihanouk province

19. Land Community, Prek Chik Village, Koh Kong

20. Land Conflict Community, Skun Village, Siem Reap province

21. Lor Peang Community, Kampong Chhnang Province

22. Ponlok Khmer

23. Progressive Voice (Myanmar)

24. Railway Station, Tuol Sangkae A Community

25. SOS International Airport Community

26. The Alliance for Conflict Transformation

27. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

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

Preah Sihanouk families seek titles

Thu, 27 July 2017 

About a hundred families in Preah Sihanouk province gathered outside their local commune office on Tuesday to demand authorities follow through on what they said were promises to give them titles to land in what is now a Chinese land concession.

The 106 families from Andong Tek, Thmor Thom, Prek Trabek and Veal Chanty villages gathered at the Ream commune office in Prey Nop district to demand the titles, according to a representative who said the land had already been measured.

Sen Chantha from Prek Trabek said the families had grown concerned about the pledge because the Chinese-owned Yeejia Tourism Development had been using police to stop them accessing plots in a 3,300-hectare concession it was granted.

“It’s now the rainy season. People are ready to cultivate, but the company does not allow them to plough the land,” Chantha said. “We came to meet the commune chief directly to ask for intervention.”

A member of the Ream Commune Council said he believed Commune Chief Kem Chan had, before the June 4 commune elections, promised to give the families titles. Chan declined to comment yesterday.

Ministry warns NGOs to heed laws

The Interior Ministry has issued a warning to all NGOs in the country saying they must comply with the recently passed law on non-governmental associations, reminding them their financial reports are due at the end of September.

The warning, issued on Tuesday, informs all NGOs that under article 10 of the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations, they must file financial reports to the Finance Ministry.

The warning noted that some, but not all, associations have been complying with the law by registering with the Interior Ministry and submitting financial reports. It added that those that fail to comply would face legal action.

“Some associations and non-governmental organisations have failed to comply with the provisions,” the letter said. “Local associations or NGOs have to notify in writing of all accounts required for their operation before the end of September 2017.”

The letter also stated that by the end of February 2018, all NGOs must file comprehensive reports on their activities to the Interior Ministry.

General Secretary of the Coalition of Cambodia Farmers Community Theng Savoeun said the warning could be viewed as a reminder.

But Mr Savoeun added the government seems to be meddling in the affairs of some NGOs by requiring comprehensive financial and activity reports.

“We will be talking to other associations about the impact of the Interior Ministry’s announcement,” he said.

Vorn Pov, president of the Independent and Democracy of Information Economic Association, said the Interior Ministry’s announcement has highlighted concerns NGOs raised well before the passing of the new law.

“It seems the Ministry of Interior is deeply interfering in civil society’s internal affairs and strictly restricting the use of finances to help people,” he said.

Mr Pov also said that he plans to discuss the recent warning with other NGOs to see what next steps should be taken by civil society organisations.