Experts condemn conviction of environmental activists in Cambodia


Experts condemn conviction of environmental activists in Cambodia

Source: OHCHR

GENEVA (4 July 2024) – The sentencing of 10 environmental activists in Cambodia points to a sustained pattern of intolerance towards human rights defenders engaged in legitimate work to protect and promote human rights in the country, a group of independent experts* said today.

“We are alarmed by these convictions, which appear to be part of an ongoing State policy to diminish civic space and crackdown on dissenting voices in Cambodia,” the experts said. “This ruling will have a chilling effect on human rights defenders across the country.”

On 2 July 2024, the Phnom Penh Court of First Instance handed down heavy sentences of six to eight years in prison and fines to 10 environmental activists from Mother Nature Cambodia, that advocates for the protection and preservation of Cambodia’s natural environment and supports local communities in defending those rights. The court found three activists guilty of plotting and lèse majesté and sentenced them to eight years in prison and a fine of 10 million riels (approximately USD 2,400) each. Seven other activists were found guilty of plotting and sentenced to six years in prison. Six of the convicted activists were minors at the time that the alleged offences were committed.

The experts expressed grave concern about due process and fair trial standards they said had not been adhered to during the trial. “This process has failed to meet the standards of both Cambodian and international human rights law,” they said.

“We call on the Cambodian Appeals Court to carefully review the activists’ cases. They must be immediately and unconditionally released,” the experts said.

They warned that the use of repressive legislation to criminalise the exercise of freedoms of expression, of peaceful assembly and of association is incompatible with Cambodia’s obligations under international human rights law, and particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Cambodia is a state party.

“With a new Government in place, there is a strong need for judicial reform to end the ongoing judicialised harassment of human rights defenders and environmental activists,” the experts said.

The experts also expressed concerns about the ongoing smear campaign and judicial harassment of the labour rights organization Centre for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL) for their work on freedom of association for workers and unions.

They urged the Government to carefully review legislation including the lèse majesté law and the country’s Criminal Code to ensure that it would not be applied against human rights activists for merely engaging in their legitimate and peaceful human rights work.

Mr. Vitit Muntarbhorn, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia; Ms. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Ms. Gina Romero, Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association; Ms Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Mr Astrid Puentes, Special Rapporteur on the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN human rights country page: Cambodia

For inquiries and media requests, please contact Naved Ahmad ([email protected]).

For media inquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected]) or John Newland ([email protected])

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