CAMBODIA: AHRC condemns the lawless imprisonment of 13 women who were peacefully demonstrating to secure boundaries to their land

The Asian Human Rights Commission is shocked by the total disregard for fair trial by the Phnom Penh municipal court, which summarily sentenced 13 women activists who engaged in peaceful demonstrations demanding proper demarcation of their land boundaries in the Boeung Kak lake area.

Photo: Children crying after their mothers, who are detained inside the courtroom

The prosecutor filed the charges one hour before trial began, and the trial was concluded by 5:30 pm that same day. They were charged with illegally occupying the land that had been given to them, and of obstructing public officials with aggravating circumstances (sections 34 and 259 of the Land Law of 2001, and section 54 of the Penal Code).

The names of those who have been so condemned are Nget Khun; Tep Vanny; Kong Chantha; Srong Srey Leap; Tho Davy; Chan Navy; Ngoun Kimlang; Pao Saopea; Cheng Leap; Soung Samai; Phan Chan Reth; Heng Mom; Toul Srey Pov; Sao Sareoun; and Ly Chanary;.

The entire process of arrest and “trial” were entirely lawless, obscene and a complete travesty of justice. This entire episode demonstrates the extent to which the Cambodian courts are controlled by the Hun Sen regime. The Phnom Penh court did not demonstrate any regard for the law or for its own independence.

The truth clearly is that the Cambodian courts are just puppets completely manipulated by the political regime and the courts show no shame in suppressing the liberties of people as it suits their political superiors. The Cambodian courts are a modern day reminder of the “trial” in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

The Mouse’s Tale

Fury said to a mouse, That he met in the house, ‘Let us both go to law: I will prosecute you.– Come, I’ll take no denial; We must have a trial: For really this morning I’ve nothing to do.’
Said the mouse to the cur, ‘Such a trial, dear Sir, With
no jury or judge, would be wasting our breath.’
‘I’ll be judge, I’ll be jury,’ Said cunning old Fury:
‘I’ll try the whole cause, and condemn you to death.’
— Lewis Carroll

In this case, the following gross abuses of law have taken place:

(a)    Arrests were illegal and therefore baseless;
(b)    The charges were fabricated and were baseless;
(c)    The rights of lawyers to represent the women were flouted blatantly;
(d)    There was no trial;
(e)    The witnesses who were waiting outside to give evidence on behalf of the accused women were not allowed to give evidence, and later two witnesses were arrested and they were also separately charged and by now their whereabouts are unknown;
(f)    There was no respect for substantive or procedural law;
(g)    Sentencing was completely arbitrary, and meant to intimidate others who are engaged in similar protests throughout Cambodia, where land grabbing has become a major social problem;
(h)    Throughout the trial and thereafter, the courts were surrounded by a large group of policemen, to keep out those who came to witness the trial. This amounts to denial of the right to an open trial, as guaranteed by the Cambodian constitution and by the international human rights conventions, which are embedded into Cambodia’s constitution.

In short, what happened at the Phnom Penh municipal court was a complete mockery of justice.

The Cambodian constitution talks of liberal democracy as the foundation of its political and legal system. However, the manner in which justice is denied to people and illegal imprisonment is taking place after the conduct of fake trials is a denial of all the basic principles of liberal democracy.

In May 1993, Cambodia held its first elections and claimed that it had now become a democracy. This claim was never true as the separation of powers never came into existence and the judicial process has always been used arbitrarily and in contravention of all the rules of fair trial and justice.

The Asian Human Rights Commission calls upon the international community to come to the defence of these 13 women who have been illegally imprisoned after the conduct of a fake trial. The international community took a special responsibility for Cambodia as a result of the Paris agreements and also by way of the United Nations Transitional Authority for Cambodia. However, it cannot be said that the international community has taken adequate action in order to defend the rights of the Cambodian people. Every day that these accused will remain in prison will constitute not only a day of shame for Cambodia’s ruling regime, but also for the international community.

The Asian Human Rights Commission expresses deepest solidarity to the accused in prison, to their families, to the villagers who are outraged and are protesting, to the human rights community of Cambodia, who are living through harsh times, and to the people of Cambodia, who continue to be denied their rights long after the bitter destruction of Cambodia by Pol Pot’s regime.

Link to the “Joint statement condemning baseless convictions and violence against human rights defenders

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-112-2012
Countries : Cambodia,
Issues : Human rights defenders, Right to fair trial,