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HRC 27 Side Event, 23 September (10:00-12:00), Palais Des Nations, Geneva: Human Rights Defenders in Cambodia: A Call for Support

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 Human Rights Defenders in Cambodia: A Call for Support

The work of human rights defenders is invaluable for the overall realisation of human rights protection and promotion in Cambodia. For many human rights defenders this includes defending the rights of vulnerable groups such as evicted persons and factory workers. Human rights defenders in Cambodia also provide support and legal assistance to families evicted or threatened to be evicted, conduct peaceful demonstrations to raise awareness and try to enter into a dialogue with the authorities.

In 2014, the Government of Cambodia continued to react harshly to the activities of human rights defenders including land and housing rights activists from rural and urban communities, grassroots and informal groups, associations and NGOs as well as trade unionists and journalists. This can be attributed in part to the protests following the National Assembly elections of July 2013 that were marred by allegations of electoral fraud as well as to a growing unrest as a result of land and labour rights violations.

Harassment of human rights defenders in Cambodia ensued in the form of intimidation, use of violence, spurious criminal charges, arbitrary arrests, or sentencing on false or exaggerated charges for the peaceful exercise of internationally recognised human rights, particularly when their activism relates to land rights. The authorities have used the judicial and legislative branch to arrest, prosecute, and condemn human rights defenders, who are clearly targeted because of their linked involvement in protests and campaigns on behalf of vulnerable groups.

This harassment and attacks against human rights defenders in Cambodia has led to condemnation by national and international human rights groups and international organisations. For instance, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Professor Surya Subedi, in his latest report recommended that governmental authorities in Cambodia “protect human rights defenders and especially those defending land rights and workers’ rights, so that they may be able to carry out their work without intimidation and harassment”[1]. However, human rights defenders on the ground continue to be targeted when defending victims of disputes between employers and factory workers over fair wages and victims of forced evictions.

This side event on the situation of human rights defenders in Cambodia has following objectives:

  1. To share threats and attacks faced by human rights defenders in Cambodia as well as challenges in relation to the restriction of fundamental human rights, such as the freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly;
  2. To draw out key recommendations and identify gaps in implementation from the recent reports by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia in relation to the protection of human rights defenders in Cambodia; 
  3. To identify opportunities and ways for governments and the broader public to support the protection of human rights defenders in Cambodia with a view to enhance a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders in Cambodia; and
  4. To launch the documentary ‘The Rights of Others’ and raise awareness and get support for human rights defenders from a broader public.


[1] A/HRC/27/70, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia, 15 August 2014,