Cambodian Human Rights Center Supports Opposition Leader

Cambodian Opposition leader Mu Sochua.  Photo: Philip Sskoczkowski.

t raises a number of violations of Mu Sochua’s constitutionally protected human rights, which – pursuant to the Law on the Organisation and Functioning of the Constitutional Council – the Supreme Court should refer to the Constitutional Council for consideration:

  • Her right to be tried by an independent and impartial tribunal;
  • Her right to equality before the courts;
  • Her right to a lawyer of her own choosing;
  • Her right to freedom of expression;
  • Her right to denounce a public official for a perceived breach of the law; and
  • Her right as a woman not to be discriminated against.

In view of the apparent failure of the judiciary to act independently of political pressure in this litigation to date, the CCHR calls on the Supreme Court to uphold the Constitution by deciding the final appeal on the basis of the facts of the case and the relevant law, and with respect to constitutionally protected human rights.

Mu Sochua’s Supreme Court hearing coincides with the Cambodia Development Cooperation Forum, at which the Royal Government of Cambodia will seek aid from foreign donors. As donors pledge hundreds of millions of dollars more to the Kingdom, it is hoped that the Supreme Court will send a signal to the people of Cambodia and the international community that there has been progress in the recognition of fundamental rights and freedoms, and that rule of law can prevail over impunity and political interference. Failure to do so will be a shameful indictment on the judicial system. On Wednesday morning, Justice in Cambodia will be on trial.

Opposition Sam Rainsy Party Member of Parliament and human rights advocate Mu Sochua was summoned by the Cambodian Supreme Court to appear for a hearing at 8:00 a.m. on 2 June, 2010, when the Court will make a final ruling on a defamation charge brought against her by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Mu Sochua has expressed hope that the Supreme Court will make a fair ruling in the case. However, she repeats her initial position that she will refuse to pay the fine if the court upholds her guilty verdict, because the decisions of the lower courts were politically-motivated.

Mu Sochua’s position is driven by principles of fair trial, freedom of speech, and gender justice:

Fair Trial. The judiciary is well-known for corruption and control by the executive branch, and by those who have political influence and money. The lack of reforms of the judiciary in Cambodia and the direct manipulation of the justice system by the executive must be condemned and immediate steps must be taken to allow judges and lawyers to exercise their roles and functions according to the rule of law and the principle of independence of judges and lawyers.

Freedom of Speech. Criminal charges of defamation, disinformation and incitement are being used to silence critics of the government, including journalists, trade union leaders, teachers and villagers, who dare to speak out against injustices. Even citizens seeking assistance from opposition MPs as victims of land grabbing, corruption, and abuse by local authorities are directly threatened and labeled as opposition activists. They are closely monitored and are often arrested without warrants.

Gender Justice. Women in Cambodia are expected not to speak out against abuses of any kind, and to silently suffer with injustices. Despite the number of strong women willing to risk their lives to organize against land grabbing and other community concerns, the backlash against their “audacity” has been even more fierce.

Mu Sochua thus calls on civil society and the international community to continue their vigilance of the current surge of defamation cases against dissenting voices, partisan political pressure on the judiciary, and troubling status of women.

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The comparison to Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi are hard to avoid
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She calls on the international community to remain vigilant in the next few weeks, and to take action to pressure the Cambodian government to:

  • Reform the judiciary and ensure independent and impartial trials for all who come before the courts.
  • Halt criminal prosecutions of critics of the government, who must be allowed freedom of speech.

Mu Sochua also calls for renewed momentum in Cambodia and across the globe to create social and institutional changes necessary to ensure equal respect and dignity for women in Cambodia – especially those who dare to stand up for their beliefs and speak out against injustice.

Background. In April 2009, following a confrontation with military police during which Mu Sochua’s blouse was torn by an officer, Prime Minister Hun Sen made a speech in Kampot Province attacking Mu Sochua’s character as a woman. He called Mu Sochua “strong leg”, a term considered to be an offensive insult against women in Cambodia; he also called her a “gangster/thug” and suggested that she intentionally disrobed in front of the officer.

In response, Mu Sochua sued Hun Sen for defamation, demanding a symbolic sum of 500 riel (about USD 12 cents). Mu Sochua’s aim was to make a statement, for equal treatment of Cambodian women whom she believes were all affected by Hun Sen’s words. However, with the judiciary lacking independence from the executive, the Court dismissed her case for lack of evidence. Furthermore, in return, in June of the same year, Hun Sen sued her and had her stripped of her parliamentary immunity during a closed-door, executive-dominated parliamentary session.

In August 2009, Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Mu Sochua guilty of defamation and ordered her to pay 16.5 million riels (around US$3,975) in fines and compensation to Hun Sen, a verdict that was upheld by the Court of Appeal in October.

The legal analysis is available in Khmer and English on the Cambodian Human Rights portals: www.sithi.org and on the CCHR website www.cchrcambodia.org.

For more information, please contact:
Ou Virak, President, Cambodian Center for Human Rights
Tel: +855 12 40 40 51. Email: ouvirak@cchrcambodia.org
Rupert Abbott, Development Director, Cambodian Center for Human Rights
Tel: +855 17 500 778. Email: rupertabbott@cchrcambodia.org

The Editors
The Stewardship Report on Connecting Goodness is the communications platform of The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation (www.lucefoundation.org). There are now more than 100 contributors around the world to this publication.

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