Cambodia must make union draft law public: rights group

April 17th, 2014 , Radio Free Asia

Cambodia’s government should make public a proposed law aimed at regulating the country’s labor movement, a rights group said Thursday, amid concerns that it includes provisions for the suspension of unions and for severely restricting their right to freedom of association.

Requests from civil society to review the Law on Trade Unions, which Prime Minister Hun Sen’s administration has pledged to adopt by the end of the year, have so far been denied, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) said in a briefing note. …

Joshua Lipes

Cybercrime law may silence critics, NGOs say

April 10th, 2014 , The Cambodia Daily

Cambodia’s cybercrime law, a draft of which was made available online Wednesday, could be used to arbitrarily punish people who share controversial opinions online or air complaints about the CPP government, rights groups said Wednesday.

According to the law, people who publish content online that slanders or undermines the government’s integrity would face jail time and fines.

The law would also establish a high level, 14-person body known as the National Anti-Cybercrime Committee, chaired by Prime Minister Hun Sen and Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, which would have control over the implementation of the law.

Article 28 outlines multiple offenses regarding the publication of content online. Citizens may be subject to punishment for publishing information that is “deemed to be non-factual, which slanders or undermine[s] the integrity of any governmental agencies, ministries, not limited to departments, federal or local levels.” …

“This article is very strict on freedom of expression, access to information and dissemination of information,” said Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho. …

Joshua Wilwohl and Hul Reaksmey

Cyber bill raises concerns

April 9th, 2014 , The Phnom Penh Post

Cambodia’s highly secretive draft law on cybercrime, which has never been released publicly, seeks to criminalise online content that “slanders or undermines” government agencies, ministries or officials or affects “political cohesiveness”, a copy obtained by the Post reveals.

The law, which was first announced in May 2012 to the trepidation of many netizens, is supposed to be passed this mandate. But the government has thus far ignored calls from civil society groups to release a draft for consultation.

Article 19, the London-based freedom-of-expression advocacy group that obtained an English-language version of the draft law, said that it falls “well below international standards” on freedom of expression, information and privacy, and if passed could see “Cambodia’s currently free online space [backsliding] into the country’s deep-seated culture of secrecy and self-censorship”. …

Kevin Ponniah

Cambodia: UN expert concerned over curbs affecting human rights, democratic processes

April 7th, 2014 , UN News Centre

The United Nations independent expert on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, expressed concern today that the country’s National Assembly held its second session last week without the opposition representatives taking up their seat, and urged the legislature to upkeep the key principles of any law-making process: transparency, accountability and participation. …

UN News Center Staff

Firm ‘logging in sanctuary’

March 27th, 2014 , The Phnom Penh Post

A company in Mondulkiri’s Sok San commune has been gradually cutting down a community forest, pushing more than 100 families off their land, villagers said yesterday.

“That land belongs to us, the government granted it to us in 1999. But the company invaded and let us do nothing on it,” Mao Theoung, 62, from the Phnong minority, said yesterday. …

May Titthara

European donors working on joint cooperation aid strategy

March 26th, 2014 , The Cambodia Daily

Cambodia’s European aid donors said Tuesday they are working on a new five-year “cooperation strategy” designed to increase the impact of the millions of dollars in loans and grants they give the country each year.

With a combined $209 million in aid to Cambodia in 2012, the E.U. and its member states together constitute the nation’s largest single source of aid. …

Zsombor Peter

Proposed law gives new powers to Justice Ministry

March 20th, 2014 , The Cambodia Daily

The last of three draft laws written with the aim of cleaning up the courts establishes four new judicial chambers, but legal and political experts worry that it does little to loosen the grip of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Justice Ministry over the courts.

The draft Law on the Organization of Judicial Bodies, obtained this week, says it aims to ensure the independence of the courts, defend citizens’ freedom, enhance the effectiveness of public services and guarantee justice. Drawn up by the Ministry of Justice, the draft law is to be put before the Council of Ministers this week. …

Lauren Crothers and Hul Reaksmey

Sugar exports to stay duty free, EU trade czar says

March 19th, 2014 , The Cambodia Daily

European Union Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht said he has no plans to launch an investigation into Cambodia’s much-criticized sugarcane plantations after a meeting with Commerce Minister Sun Chanthol in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. Bottom line: Cambodia’s free trade benefits to Europe are safe for the foreseeable future.

The news came in the face of Tuesday’s announcement by soft-drinks giant PepsiCo that it was joining rival Coca-Cola in declaring “zero tolerance” for land grabs by sugar suppliers. Now, both companies are starting audits of their supply chains, checks that will reach Cambodia.

But Mr. de Gucht said the E.U. has no plans to investigate the plantations. He was in Cambodia Tuesday between stops in Vietnam and Burma to promote E.U. trade with Asean member states. …

Instead of an investigation, the E.U.’s delegation to Cambodia has started talks with the government. The E.U. hopes to convince the government to find a comprehensive solution for the thousands of families that lost land to sugarcane plantations.

Mr. de Gucht called the talks “a major step.” But after three meetings, the two sides have yet to agree on just how many families have legitimate claims. Asked how far apart Cambodia and the E.U. were on this number, the trade commissioner said it was too soon to say. He said he hoped to bring in two independent experts to help sort out frivolous claims from legitimate ones. …

Zsombor Peter

No mention of party affiliation in code for judges

March 14th, 2014 , The Cambodia Daily

A new draft law on the Status of Judges and Prosecutors does not prohibit the judiciary from affiliation with political parties and allows Supreme Court judges and prosecutors to work beyond the mandatory retirement age of 60, when all other judges will be expected to retire.

The long-awaited law, one of three now in the final stages of drafting, is supposed to ensure the independence of the country’s judiciary, which is widely considered to be mired in corruption and beholden to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP.

Article 107 of the 111-article draft law, a copy of which was obtained Thursday, states that “for serving judges and prosecutors in all the courts, their work is incompatible with public duties, such as lawmakers, senators, government members and all positions received in an election mandate,” and that they can also not work as legal representatives on a private basis.

No mention, however, is made of political party affiliation. …

The law does contain a code of ethics that governs both judges and prosecutors, which makes no reference in the draft form to political party membership.

“Judges and prosecutors must be balanced and stand on their principles, respect the law, and don’t act under pressure or threats,” the code of ethics states. …

Khy Sovuthy

Business employers say corruption greatest threat to economy

March 12th, 2014 , The Cambodia Daily

Corruption remains the most significant challenge facing Cambodia’s economy, according to a survey of more than 300 employers conducted last year by the International Labor Organization (ILO), the results of which were released Tuesday.

Despite legislation meant to stamp out graft, corruption continues to be perceived as the greatest threat to business in the country, according to the ILO report, titled “Enabling Environment for Sustainable Enterprises (EESE).” …

“The World Economic Forum has noted corruption as the single most problematic factor hindering doing business in Cambodia as of 2012, and according to estimates, 10 percent of Cambodia’s annual GDP [gross domestic product] is lost to corruption,” the report continues.

Applying this estimate to the World Bank’s predicted GDP for Cambodia of $17.2 billion in 2014, more than $1.7 billion will be funneled out of the economy by corruption this year. …

Colin Meyn

Preah Vihear temple under repair

March 12th, 2014 , The Phnom Penh Post

Work is finally under way to repair damage to Preah Vihear temple caused during clashes between Cambodia and Thailand more than two years ago, officials said yesterday. …

Long Kosal, deputy director of the National Authority of Preah Vihear, said a restoration project has been ongoing since February 10, focused on strengthening stone strafed by bullets during clashes between Cambodia and Thailand over the disputed temple from 2008 to 2011. …

Chhim Sovantha, a heritage police officer at Preah Vihear who guards the temple, said that last week dozens of officials from the Apsara Authority and Preah Vihear Authority came to the temple for several days to clean bullet holes left in the stone. …


Vong Sokheng

New look at Vichea murder

March 12th, 2014 , The Phnom Penh Post

Phnom Penh Municipal Court has reopened an investigation into the high-profile slaying of union leader Chea Vichea in 2004, a court official said yesterday.

Prosecutor Sok Roeun said the court’s head prosecutor began reinvestigating the case early last month in response to an order from the Supreme Court.​

That order, he added, was delivered in September as part of the verdict acquitting Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, two men wrongfully imprisoned over Vichea’s murder. …

Most notably, in 2006, disgraced former municipal police chief Heng Pov told French news magazine L’Express that the killing had been organised by top officials. …

Buth Reaksmey Kongkea

Family’s world shrinks daily

March 12th, 2014 , The Phnom Penh Post

Dozens of trucks, bulldozers and excavators have pushed Var Sokhoeurn to the edge of his remaining land at the Lower Sesan II dam site in Stung Treng province’s Srepok district.

When Post reporters visited Sokhoeurn’s family last month, much of his land, where he grew cassava and other crops, had already been dug up without his consent.

Speaking yesterday, Sokheurn, 56, said the diggers of Lower Sesan II Co Ltd had further encroached onto his property. …

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said yesterday that attempts to contact the Agriculture Ministry over the order to suspend the contract had failed. …

Phak Seangly and Daniel Pye

Judicial reform drafts to move forward in March

March 6th, 2014 , VOA Khmer

Three judicial reform draft laws will be submitted to the Council of Ministers last this month, justice officials said Wednesday.

The draft laws deal with the functions of the courts and the conduct of judges and prosecutors, as well as an oversight body called the Supreme Council of Magistracy.

Nongovernmental organizations say they worry the laws are being passed without outside review or comment, which could mean they don’t function to clean up a justice system widely criticized for corruption, political bias and ineffectiveness. …

After approval at the Council of Ministers, the drafts will be sent to the National Assembly for debate and approval. However, the Assembly is still not fully functioning, with the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party continuing a post-election boycott of parliament. …

Kong Sothanarith

Input on NGO law over: gov’t

March 6th, 2014 , The Phnom Penh Post

The government will not consult civil society groups on the latest iteration of a draft law that will regulate non-governmental organisations and associations, a senior Interior Ministry official said yesterday.

Meas Sarim, deputy director-general of the General Department of Local Administration at the Ministry of Interior (MOI), said that the Council of Ministers had sent the law back to the MOI last year with orders that certain changes recommended by civil society groups be made. …

A major concern when the fourth draft of the law was released in 2011 was that its vague definitions of NGOs and associations would allow the government to restrict certain groups, such as land rights protesters, by forcing them to register. …

Chhay Channyda and Kevin Ponniah

Low ranking for rule of law

March 6th, 2014 , The Phnom Penh Post

The World Justice Project yesterday ranked Cambodia 91st out of 99 nations and at the bottom of the barrel regionally in terms of its devotion to the rule of law, despite its midlevel performance in terms of providing order and security.

In its annual Rule of Law Index – which measures key indicators like checks on government power, absence of corruption and fundamental rights – the WJP found that Cambodia’s “adherence to the rule of law” was the worst in the East Asia & Pacific region. …

Cambodia’s score on fundamental human rights was up about 7 per cent over last year’s index, but still ranked 82nd in the category. The only one of the WJP’s eight key indicators in which Cambodia did not rank in the bottom 20 per cent was in maintaining security and order, in which it ranked 54th overall, and third out of 16 low-income countries. …

Stuart White and May Titthara

Union representatives detained for distributing strike leaflets

February 28th, 2014 , The Cambodia Daily

Two union representatives said that they were detained and “educated” Thursday for distributing leaflets calling on workers to participate in a nationwide strike next month.

Yin Saroeun, secretary-general of the National Trade Unions Coalition, said police detained him and his colleague, Chuob Noek, at about 11 a.m. after they distributed strike leaflets outside the Evergreen garment factory in Russei Keo district. They were taken to the Russei Keo commune police station and were only released after they had thumbprinted declarations swearing that they would not hand out any more leaflets.

“We were threatened by them that if we did not follow their orders, they would take our belongings,” Mr. Saroeun said, adding that he and Mr. Noek were held for about an hour.

“They had no right to arrest us since there is no law that states that distributing leaflets is illegal—we just distributed the leaflets to inform and make workers understand our demands,” he added. …

On Thursday, 17 unions and associations co-signed a letter that was sent to the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, the Ministry of Labor, the Council of Ministers, the International Labor Organization, City Hall and buyers informing them about the planned strike on March 12 and their intention to hold a public forum on the minimum wage on March 8.

“Employers get a lot of profit from this sector…. Therefore, we would like to inform you about our strike in order to push the government and employers to solve our seven demands,” the letter says. …

Mech Dara

Verdict due today for Kbal Thnal six

February 28th, 2014 , The Phnom Penh Post

A Phnom Penh municipal judge is expected to announce a verdict this morning for six people arrested in connection with a September clash at the Kbal Thnal overpass, a week after the verdict was originally expected.

Authorities took the six men into custody at the overpass on the night of September 15, when a mixture of commuters and demonstrators participating in a three-day Cambodia National Rescue Party protest allegedly threw rocks and damaged property at a roadblock set up there. Police responded by opening fire on the crowd, killing one and injuring dozens. …

Sean Teehan

Plan aims to cut road deaths

February 24th, 2014 , The Phnom Penh Post

Every day, five people die in traffic accidents in Cambodia – a number the government is hoping to reduce with a new policy aimed at cutting traffic accidents by 50 per cent in 2020.

The National Policy on Road Safety, passed by the Council of Ministers on Friday, is an expansion of the existing Road Safety Action Plan for 2011-2020.

But while it will see the budget for the project quintupled, from $2 million a year to $10 million a year, specifics provided to the Post yesterday were thin.

Under the new policy, Cambodia will implement the United Nations’ five road safety strategies, as well as three Cambodia-specific plans, according to Men Chansokol, chief of international relations at the National Road Safety Committee. …

Chhay Channyda and Lieng Sarith