Human rights defenders say their work situations are worsening in the aftermath of the government’s clampdown on public demonstrations and the assassination of labor activist Chea Vichea in 2004.
“We feel the situation, here especially, deteriorated very rapidly in 2004 and in the years previously,” Cynthia Gabriel, deputy secretary-general of the International Federation on Human Rights, told a conference in Phnom Penh on Thursday.
Her statement echoed comments made in a report, titled “Human Rights Defenders on the Frontline,” which was compiled by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and made public earlier this month.
The report cited the killings of Chea Vichea, fellow union leader Ros Sovannareth and Christian Church World Service Program Manager Mey Meakea as particularly disturbing.
The report also highlighted threats to NGO workers over the past year, called the judicial system biased and pointed to instances where NGOs have been targeted, such as the raid on the Afesip women’s shelter in December.
Licadho President Kek Galabru said that while she couldn’t use numbers to prove the situation was worse than previous years, Chea Vichea’s death and the government’s ban on peaceful demonstrations had big impacts on human rights workers.
“After Chea Vichea was killed, we were all scared,” she said. “And since the 1997 fighting, we can see our freedom is reduced. The freedom to assemble is really impacted, and it is a fundamental freedom.”
According to a report released by Licadho in December, there were 42 cases of threats against human rights defenders in 2004.
Ny Chakrya, head of the monitoring unit at Adhoc, which is also a member of the federation, said while other countries in the region may have worse human rights records, the difference is that Cambodia’s laws call for the protection of those rights.
“In Vietnam and [Burma], most of the laws violate the rights of the people so they are enforcing the laws,” he said. “Here we violate our own laws.”
The problem, Ny Chakrya said, is that the government doesn’t seem to care about defending human rights in Cambodia.