UN experts alarmed at curtailment of civil society in Cambodia

UN experts have expressed concerns about tightening restrictions on civil society in Cambodia. They have called for an immediate end to the systematic detention & criminalisation of Human Rights defenders, as well as excessive use of force against them.

“I am alarmed by credible reports that at least 21 human rights defenders have been subjected to threats, arbitrary arrests and detentions in the past three months,” said Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

“I have reviewed publicly available footage where excessive force has been used by the security forces to prohibit human rights defenders, many of them women, from exercising their rights to peaceful assembly. Promotion and protection of human rights through peaceful means is not a crime.”

Lawlor referred to several cases in which detention has reportedly been used to punish human rights defenders for carrying out their work. Human rights defender Rong Chhun was arrested on 31 July after taking up the case of farmers in Tbong Khmom who had their land taken in connection with a border demarcation between Cambodia and Viet Nam. Subsequently, several other human rights defenders who demonstrated against his detention were also arrested. Twelve remain in pre-trial detention, have been denied bail, and are facing charges punishable by up to two years in prison.

“Human rights defenders should never be criminalised for their courageous efforts to protect the rights of others,” said Lawlor. “I am increasingly concerned by the circular pattern of detaining

them for advocating against the detention of or violations against fellow defenders. This cycle must end.”

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