Judicial Harassment Against Human Rights Defenders A Blow to Rule of Law

Woman holding flowers in protest

The prosecution of six human rights defenders in Phnom Penh makes a mockery of Cambodia’s human rights obligations and commitments, and is an alarming sign of the tightening of civic space ahead of the upcoming local elections in 2017, Civil Rights Defenders said today, 5 May 2016.

On 2 May 2016, an investigative judge in Phnom Penh charged four senior staff of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)—Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan and Lim Mony—with bribery of a witness under Article 548 of the Criminal Code. They are being detained in CC1 and CC2 prisons in Phnom Penh. Ny Chakrya, former ADHOC staffer and a deputy secretary-general of the National Election Committee (NEC), and Soen Sally, a staff of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Cambodia, were charged with being accomplices. Chakrya was sent to Police Judiciare prison in Phnom Penh.

Over 50 human rights and civil society groups in Cambodia have condemned the charges “as a farcical use of both the criminal justice system and state institutions as tools to intimidate, criminalise and punish the legitimate activities of human rights defenders and civil society.” This case is the latest example of a shrinking civic space in recent years that have seen scores of individuals beaten, detained, charged or convicted on spurious charges, including environmental activists, land rights activists, workers and labour activists, and opposition party members and supporters.

This worrying trend continues despite multiple UN resolutions and UN special rapporteur recommendations calling on Cambodia to strengthen respect for human rights and rule of law. Since 2009, Cambodia has accepted 20 Universal Periodic Review (UPR) recommendations relating to human rights defenders and civil society. Since March 2012, however, almost 90% of all appeals and allegations sent by UN human rights experts to the government concern cases of threats and harassment against human rights defenders. The UN Human Rights Committee has also echoed similar concerns in 2015 (see compilation below).

Civil Rights Defenders urges the Cambodia government to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan, Lim Mony and Ny Chakrya, and drop all charges against them and Soen Sally;
  • Respect, protect, and facilitate an enabling environment for human rights defenders and civil society; and
  • Respond positively to pending country visit requests by the UN Special Rapporteurs on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and on the situation of human rights defenders.

Please click here to download a compilation of UN human rights mechanisms’ recent observations and recommendations on human rights defenders and civil society in Cambodia.


Established in 1991, ADHOC is an independent, non-partisan, and non-governmental organisation with a mission to strengthen the people’s capacity to claim and defend human rights. Over the years, ADHOC has provided legal, material and advocacy support to countless vulnerable people and victims of human rights violations across Cambodia.

The charges in this case relate to a complaint lodged by Khom Chandaraty (also known as Srey Mom), who in March-April 2016 sought and received legal and material assistance from ADHOC when anti-terrorism police and prosecutor summoned her for questioning about an alleged extra-marital affair between her and Kem Sokha, acting leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). After the authorities questioned her, Srey Mom issued a letter accusing the human rights defenders of pressuring her to lie to the authorities. ADHOC has rejected the accusation.

On 27 and 28 April, the Cambodia government’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) summoned and interrogated Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan, Lim Mony, and Ny Chakrya. UN employee Soen Sally was also summoned but did not appear before the ACU on 27 April. On 1 May, the prosecutor of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court questioned the four ADHOC staff and Ny Chakrya. Independent political commentator Ou Virak has been summoned to appear before the same court on 12 May over his criticisms of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP)’s role in this case. The acting opposition leader and two opposition lawmakers have also been summoned over this case.

CNRP leader Sam Rainsy has been abroad since an arrest warrant was issued against him in November 2015 in relation to his 2011 conviction on politically-motivated charges. Local elections and national elections are scheduled to take place in 2017 and 2018, respectively.