Forced evictions continued to affect thousands of families across the country, predominantly people living in poverty. Activists from communities affected by forced evictions and other land confiscations mobilized to join forces in protests and appeals to the authorities. A wave of legal actions against housing rights defenders, journalists and other critical voices stifled freedom of expression. The first trial to address past Khmer Rouge atrocities took place. The defendant, Duch, pleaded guilty, but later asked to be acquitted.
At least 45,000 garment factory workers lost their jobs as a result of the global economic crisis and a number of companies reduced salaries. Surveys indicated growing mass youth unemployment as some 300,000 young people faced joblessness after completing their high school and bachelor degrees. For the first time, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights considered Cambodia’s state report, which the authorities had delayed submitting for 14 years. The Committee identified serious shortcomings in the implementation of a number of treaty obligations, including those relating to the judicial system, housing and gender inequalities. Cambodia’s human rights record was reviewed under the UN Universal Periodic Review in December.
Forced evictions continued to affect the lives of thousands of Cambodians. At least 26 forced evictions displaced around 27,000 people, the vast majority from communities living in poverty. In July, a number of international donors called for an end to forced evictions “until a fair and transparent mechanism for resolving land disputes is in place and a comprehensive resettlement policy” is established.
- On 16/17 July, security forces forcibly evicted Group 78, a community group in Phnom Penh after a deeply flawed legal process. The last 60 families had no choice but to dismantle their houses and accept compensation that prevented them from living near their former homes and workplaces. Most of the families were relocated outside the city with few work prospects.
After civil society criticism, the World Bank attempted to strengthen safeguards in a multi-donor supported Land Management and Administration Project to protect security of tenure for people in urban slums and other vulnerable areas. In early September, the government responded by terminating its contract with the Bank.
Human rights defenders
The rich and powerful continued to abuse the criminal justice system to silence people protesting against evictions and land grabs. Police arrested at least 149 activists, for their peaceful defence of the right to housing.
- On 22 March, security forces shot at unarmed villagers in Siem Reap province, injuring at least four people. The villagers, from Chikreng district, were protesting against the loss of farmland that had come under dispute. By the end of the year, no authority had investigated the shooting, but police had arrested at least 12 of the villagers, two of whom were subsequently convicted of robbery for attempting to harvest their rice on the disputed land. Seven were acquitted but remained in arbitrary detention pending a prosecutorial appeal.
Informal representatives from communities in most provinces increasingly formed grassroots networks, jointly voicing concerns over forced evictions and intimidation.
In March, the historic first hearing of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC, Khmer Rouge Tribunal) took place with the trial of Kaing Guek Eav (known as Duch). Duch was commander of notorious security prison S-21. During the 72-day hearing, survivors and victims of Khmer Rouge atrocities heard for the first time evidence against “those most responsible”. Duch admitted responsibility for crimes committed at S-21, including killing about 15,000 people.
The trial of four senior Khmer Rouge leaders was in preparation, and the International Co-Prosecutor submitted requests to open investigations into an additional five suspects. The Cambodian government spoke out against additional investigations saying they could lead to unrest, apparently in an attempt to exert influence over the tribunal.
In July, co-investigating judges decided to allow “confessions” obtained by torture as evidence in the case of Ieng Thirith. This breached the “exclusionary rule” in Article 15 of the UN Convention against Torture which binds the ECCC.
Freedom of expression
A series of prosecutions of people who criticized government policies had a stifling effect on freedom of expression.
- Courts sentenced newspaper editor Hang Chakra, and the director of an NGO, both affiliated to the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), to prison terms for peacefully expressing views.
- The Phnom Penh Court convicted Mu Sochua, Secretary-General of the SRP, of defamation for filing a complaint – also for defamation – against the Prime Minister. She had no legal counsel because her lawyer had withdrawn from the case after receiving threats of legal action for speaking about the case at a press conference. Mu Sochua received a non-custodial sentence.
On 10 July, one of the few remaining opposition-affiliated daily newspapers, Moneaksekar Khmer (Khmer Conscience), stopped publishing. The editor, Dam Sith, issued a public apology for articles, over which the government had requested a criminal investigation for “incitement”.
- By the end of the year, police had made no progress on the investigation into the murder of Moneaksekar Khmer reporter Khim Sambor. He had been killed by unknown assailants during the July 2008 elections.
Legal, constitutional or institutional developments
On 12 October, the National Assembly passed the new Penal Code. This retained defamation as a criminal offence.
Opposition parliamentarians and civil society groups criticized a new Law on non-violent demonstrations, passed by the National Assembly in October. Authorities routinely denied permission for demonstrations and the law, if adopted, risked codifying such restrictions.
Violence against women and girls
Prosecution of rapists remained rare, due to poor law enforcement, corruption in the courts and widespread use of out-of-court financial settlements. Settlements were typically arranged by law enforcement officials and stipulated that the victim withdraw any criminal complaint. Reports indicated that rapes of women and girls, including sex workers, continued to increase, with the age of victims falling.
Amnesty International visits/reports
- Amnesty International delegates visited Cambodia in March/May, September and October/December.
- Cambodia: Urban development or relocating slums?
- Cambodia: After 30 years Khmer Rouge crimes on trial
- Cambodia: Briefing for the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: 42nd session, May 2009
- Cambodia: Borei Keila – Lives at risk