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Cambodia: Government intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders

Eva Galabru is being sued for 'disinformation', a charge that carries a maximum three year prison sentence. She has been accused of spreading 'false information' after a statement from Global Witness which detailed the police beating people, including using electric batons, in response to a peaceful gathering in Phnom Penh by representatives of forest communities on 5 December 2002, who wished to make representations to the Department of Forestry and Wildlife.

The case against Eva Galabru comes despite independent corroboration of Global Witness' findings by the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General for Human Rights in Cambodia who characterised the use of force by the police as 'excessive'.

Eva Galabru was subject to an earlier defamation allegation and was summoned to appear at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in March 2002. The case against her was without foundation. On 30 April 2002 she was physically assaulted by stick-wielding masked men, an attack that was immediately followed by an anonymous and intimidating message addressed to Global Witness.

In another incident related to the events of 5 December 2002, Uch Kim Nary, the Director of Cambodian NGO Peaceful Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights for the Environment, was threatened with arrest by the police. She has been accused by government officials at the Phnom Penh level of helping to organise the gathering on 5 December 2002. Similar allegations of intimidation have been reported from across the country by other human rights defenders who participated in the 5 December 2002 event.

Human rights defenders in Cambodia are frequently targeted by authorities for the peaceful advocacy, and exercise, in the interest of others, of their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly. These are the latest examples of a continuing pattern of harassment and intimidation towards human rights defenders, both national and international, documented over recent years by Amnesty International:

  • In April 2002, for example, the government forced the closure of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reception centre for newly arrived Vietnamese Montagnard asylum-seekers. One source said that an unidentified official threatened to kill a western worker at the site if the worker did not leave the centre. Local UNHCR staff were also reported to have been harassed.
  • In October 2001, the then acting head of LICADHO was issued with a court summons, over the alleged illegal confinement of a minor who the organisation had been caring for following serious domestic violence allegations. The minor was legally in LICADHO's custody with the full knowledge and agreement of the responsible authorities, and yet the case was allowed to proceed.
  • In September 2000, a district chief in Kampot province closed down a voter education meeting conducted by COMFREL, an election monitoring NGO. The district chief cited the organisation's lack of written permission from the governor to convene the meeting as the reason for stopping it.
  • In January 1999, representatives of Cambodian human rights organisations in seven provinces reported intimidation from government authorities, and one NGO worker was threatened with arrest during a campaign to gather signatures from Cambodians requesting the United Nations to establish an international tribunal to bring members of the Khmer Rouge to justice.
  • In December 1998, two staff members of the local human rights organisation LICADHO - Kim Sen and Meas Minear - were arrested, charged and detained for one month after they monitored some violent demonstrations in Sihanoukville against the dumping of toxic waste. All charges were eventually dropped following a trial in July 1999 in which no evidence against them was presented.

Amnesty International believes that these examples show a pattern of intimidation and harassment against human rights defenders and are in contravention of fundamental human rights including the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

The organisation calls upon the Cambodian government to cease such intimidation and to ensure that all branches and levels of government respect fundamental human rights enshrined in Cambodia's Constitution, and international conventions to which Cambodia is party.

Amnesty International also calls upon donor governments and organisations to use every opportunity to highlight the importance of Cambodia's compliance with these obligations and the essential role that civil society is playing in attempting to ensure the realisation of all human rights - including economic, social and cultural rights - in Cambodia.

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