Open Letter regarding Cambodian Human Rights Defender Rong Chhun
The following open letter regarding Cambodian Human Rights Defender Rong Chhun signed by Kerry Kennedy, President of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, and Santiago A. Canton, Director of RFK Partners for Human Rights, was sent on September 14.
Re: Cambodia – Court summons issued to trade union leader and human rights defender Mr. Rong Chhun
The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights (RFK Center) expresses grave concern with the judicial harassment and persecution of the President of the Cambodia Confederation of Unions and human rights advocate Mr. Rong Chhun. Mr. Chhun is not only a personal friend; he has been an active partner with the RFK Center's Speak Truth To Power human rights education program, which is working to empower the next generation of Cambodia's youth. We are deeply concerned for his welfare.
According to information received, on August 29, 2012, Mr. Chhun received a summons to appear at Kandal Provincial Court on September 11. Tai Yang Enterprises' (Tai Yang) Director-General Mr. Jack Liu presented a complaint alleging that Mr. Chhun incited Tai Yang’s employees to protest illegally. Mr. Liu is also accusing Mr. Chhun of defamation. We believe that the persecution and harassment against Mr. Chhun violate internationally recognized rights and protections and restrain legitimate activities related to the promotion of labor and human rights.
Mr. Chhun, a prominent human rights activist, is defending the rights of thousands of workers striving for better working conditions. The right to form unions and to collectively bargain have international protection. Freedom of association protects the right to form unions and to establish their internal structure, activities and programs of action without interference from public authorities. The right to strike in protest is a fundamental right of workers and their organizations. Labor rights leaders must be able to exercise trade union activities free from being detained and harassed. International Labor Organization (ILO)'s conventions on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize and on the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining establish the right of workers' and employers' organizations to "organize their administration and activities and to formulate their programmes." The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) also protects workers rights, including collective bargaining, protection against reprisals for exercising free association rights and freedom from unnecessary interference in trade union activities. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) explicitly guarantees the right to strike.
The criminal defamation under article 305 of the Cambodian Penal Code is contrary to international standards that protect freedom of expression. The Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) and the ICCPR guarantee the right to freedom of expression and the right of an individual to hold and express one’s opinions without interference. The United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media, and the Organization of American States (OAS) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression have called on States to repeal their criminal defamation laws, arguing that criminal defamation is not a justifiable restriction on freedom of expression. Furthermore, the UN Special Rapporteur notes that these laws are inherently harsh and have a disproportionate chilling effect which stifles reporting on issues of public interest. Criminal defamation should not exist to curb freedom of opinion and expression on issues of public interest. Regional Courts have found that there is a breach of the right to freedom of expression in cases which criminal defamation is applied to statements on matters of public interest. It is in the public interest for people to be able to speak freely without fear of punishment.
The RFK Center ask the authorities in Cambodia to immediately stop the harassment of Mr. Chhun and guarantee that human rights defenders and trade union leaders are able to freely exercise their activities without fear of persecution.
Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights
RFK Partners for Human Rights Program