H.E. Dr. Ith Sam Heng
Minister of Labour and Vocational Training
Russian Federation Blvd (110),
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Cambodia: Halt crackdown on striking trade union activists
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global alliance of civil society organisations (CSOs) and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world. Founded in 1993, CIVICUS has more than 10,000 members in more than 175 countries throughout the world.
We are writing to you with regards to our concerns around the crackdown against union activists from the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld (LRSU), a casino workers’ union. On 18 December 2021, around 2000 members from LRSU went on strike in the capital Phnom Penh demanding, among other things, the reinstatement of 365 workers laid off by the company in April 2021. They had refused to accept termination packages from the Hong Kong-listed casino group NagaCorp.
According to human rights groups, the layoffs unfairly targeted union members and leaders. Union leaders have filed complaints to the Ministry of Labour and Arbitration Council arguing the company violated Cambodian law and several ILO conventions. The layoffs were also often accompanied by improper compensation, according to LRSU leaders.
According to a report received, the authorities have attempted to disrupt the strike and arrested union activists involved. Soon after the strike had begun, representatives from the Phnom Penh municipal court read out a provisional disposition declaring the strike action to be illegal and ordering striking workers to resume work.
On the evening of 31 December 2021, there was a large presence of police around the strike site and a drone was seen flying over despite it being a drone-prohibited area. The police then detained eight union members from the union’s office in Chamkarmon district. They include Chhim Sokhorn, Kleang Soben, Sun Sreypich, Hai Sopheap, Ry Sovandy, Rin Phalla, Eng Sreybo and Sun Sreymom. Police arrested a ninth worker, Touch Sereymeas, on her way back home after the strike. The police claimed that arrests were made because of the union’s ‘illegal strike’ affecting public order and social security. The police also attempted to arrest another LRSU member, Choup Channat, who was often on a megaphone at the strike site in front of Naga World. However, Channat managed to get away from the site.
While three activists were released after signing contracts with the police, six were questioned at Phnom Penh Municipal Court on 3 January and formally charged with ‘incitement’ under Articles 494 - 495 of the Criminal Code. They are all being held in pre-trial detention at Correction Centre 2 (CC2) prison.
On 3rd January, as the six union activists were being questioned, 17 more protesters were arrested. 16 of them were detained at the Phnom Penh Municipal Police headquarters while one, who is a pregnant woman, was released.
Three other union activists were arrested on 4 January are also facing ‘incitement’ charges. The nine include Ry Sovanndy, Sun Sreypich, Hai Sopheap, Klang Soben, Touch Sereymeas, Chim Sokhon, Sok Narith, Sok Konkhea and Chim Sithar, the LRSU union leader. Sithar was arrested with excessive force by plain clothes police outside the Australian Embassy, as she entered the barricades cordoning off the workers’ strike.
The arrest and charges against the union activists are a violation of the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly that are guaranteed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by Cambodia in 1992. These freedoms are also guaranteed in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia (articles 41 and 42) the Law on Peaceful Assembly (article 2) and the Labour Law (article 320). We are also concerned about the use of vaguely worded ‘incitement’ provisions under article 494 and 495 of the Criminal Code which has been systematically used to obstruct and punish the legitimate activities of human rights defenders and critics.
As such, we urge the Cambodian authorities to take the following steps as a matter of priority:
- Drop the charges against the union activists, release them immediately and unconditionally, and refrain from conducting further reprisals against them;
- Halt the harassment of the LRSU Union and respect and protect their right to freedom of expression and peaceful protest;
- Create a safe and enabling environment for activists, human rights defenders and other members of civil society to peacefully exercise their civic freedoms without intimidation, harassment, arrest or prosecution.
We express our sincere hope that you will take these steps to address the concerns highlighted above.
Advocacy & Campaigns Lead.
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
H.E. An Sokkhoeurn, Cambodia's Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva
H.E. Mr. Yeap Samnang, Cambodia’s Permanent Representative to ASEAN
H.E. Mrs Polyne Hean, Representative of Cambodia to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR)
Ms. Irene Khan, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression
Mr. Clément Voule, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association
Prof. Vitit Muntarbhorn, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia
Civic space in Cambodia is rated as "repressed" by the CIVICUS Monitor.