Press Release
October 1, 2018

Dispatch from Crame No. 392
Senator Leila M. de Lima: Free the Five (5) Cambodian Human Rights Defenders!


Human rights defenders (HRDs) are some of the bravest and most selfless people on earth. By definition, they are those who readily sacrifice their own welfare in order to fight for the human rights of other people. They step in when circumstances and conditions are the most dire for those who challenge injustice, oppression and inhumanity anywhere in the world. Often, even risking their very lives as they speak truth to power while supporting the powerless--the victims and survivors of human rights abuses.

As they are invaluable in making a safer, more civilized and more humane world, HRDs themselves should be protected from harm, and their work should be supported.

This is not happening in Cambodia. On 26 September 2018, NAY VANDA, NY SOKHA, LIM MONY, YI SOKSAN and NY CHAKRYA--all human rights defenders, who are current and former staff members of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)--were sentenced to five years in prison (minus the 14 months they spent in pre-trial detention) for the fabricated charge of "bribery of a witness", just eight (8) days after what observers described as "a deeply flawed one-day trial."

The case arose in 2016, when the five (5) provided legal assistance to a victim of government harassment, Srey Mom, whom the Hun Sen government alleged to have had an extramarital affair with detained opposition leader Kem Sokha.

During the trial on Sept. 18, the five (5) accused were denied the right to challenge the testimonies of prosecution witnesses, and were convicted despite the prosecution's failure to identify the witness they allegedly bribed and to present, in the first place, any credible evidence showing that a witness had indeed been bribed.

There is no doubt that those five (5) brave persons are in jail because of the Cambodian authorities' policy of intimidating HRDs and suppressing human rights work in an obvious move to suppress any form of criticism or opposition against the government.

Ganitong-ganito rin ang nangyayari dito sa Pilipinas. Maraming human rights defenders ang tinatakot, sinisiraan, pinakukulong at tinutugis dahil sa kanilang gawain. Ang sitwasyon ko mismo ay patunay nito.

[English Translation: This is also happening here in the Philippines. Many human rights defenders are threatened, maligned, imprisoned and persecuted because of their advocacies. My situation is proof of this.]

And this phenomenon is inextricably connected to the bigger picture of a government that stifles dissent, muffles criticisms and ultimately smothers democracy in our country.

The governments of the Philippines and Cambodia should be reminded that their states are signatories to the 1998 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders which, in Article 12 thereof, mandates that governments shall take all necessary measures to ensure that HRDs are themselves protected against "any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary actions" related to their efforts to protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Thus, we call upon the Cambodian government to abide by the commitments it made both to the international community and to its own people by freeing these five HRDs. A strong government uses its might to protect and bring justice to all of its subjects.

Now is a critical opportunity for the Cambodian government, and especially its leadership, that its strength lies not in oppressing the powerless, but in its capacity to fairly administer justice and promote the Rule of Law which, by definition, means not using the justice system as a political weapon and, instead, respecting the human rights of all.

FreeThe5KH (Free the Khmer Five)! Uphold the rights and respect the work of HRDs everywhere in the world!

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