The Human Rights Defenders Project seeks to closely monitor the situation of human rights defenders (HRDs) in Cambodia and to raise public awareness on the situation of HRDs. The Project works to improve the environment for HRDs in Cambodia through the promotion and protection of HRD’s rights, particularly the right to freedom of expression by providing support to HRDs at risks and also by conducting research and advocacy towards legislative, structural and policy changes to ensure that the right to defend human rights is fully respected.
The situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cambodia, including the freedoms of thought, expression, assembly and association, is dire. The state apparatus in Cambodia including the police, military, the judiciary and even the National Assembly is being used to harass and harangue HRDs. The lack of independence of the judiciary from political branches, leads to the use of courts as political tools to silence opposition and dissent.
In 2012 and 2013 alone there has been a surge in criminal cases taken against HRDs as well as violence against activists. Environmental activist Chut Wutty was shot dead by military police; Mam Sonando, the owner of the independent radio Beehive, as well as Boeng Kak Lake land activist Yorm Bopha, were imprisoned under bogus charges. At the beginning of 2014, HRDs’ space again shrank when the Royal Government of Cambodian (RGC) imposed a ban on assembly following a crackdown on opposition and garment workers protests.
By working to support the rights of HRDs, we are ensuring that human rights are monitored, violations are reported, redress for violations is provided and positive changes in policies and actions of government in the area of human rights are secured. By promoting and protecting the rights of HRDs, we are also working to promote observance and implementation of international human rights standards.
The Project is working for empowering Cambodian HRDs – community activists, NGO workers, journalists, human rights lawyers – to prevent attacks against them and to further their work. The Project provides protection to HRDs under threat, including the threat of physical violence and/or judicial intimidation, and promotes the rights of HRDs, seeking positive change in government policies and the observance and implementation of international human rights standards.
The Project provides funds to support HRDs at risks and their families, for example to cover costs including but not limited to legal representation, humanitarian aid, psychological, security and logistical support.
The Project also raises awareness of the dire situation faced by HRDs, through public events and roundtables, whereby HRDs gather to discuss challenges to their work and suggest solutions to these challenges; through regular HRD alerts to update NGOs, international partners and media on new and ongoing cases of harassment of HRDs; and through reports about the situations faced by HRD within the Cambodian context.
Moreover, the Project is working to establish partnership with grassroots, national and international organizations, as the key to the gathering and dissemination of information and the strength of campaigns; or organizing trainings to educate HRDs on how to prevent attacks against them, how to mitigate risks and what actions to take when their rights are violated.
The target beneficiaries of the Project are HRDs who work to prevent and end violations of human rights, including, but not restricted to, extrajudicial and arbitrary killings, human trafficking, restrictions on freedoms of thought, expression, assembly and association, abuses in the judicial system, systematic discrimination, mass evictions, forced displacement, denial of the rights to economic livelihoods for particular groups, and forced labor.
The target audience for dialogue and advocacy is the RGC, who has an obligation to respect, protect and promote human rights; HRDs and CSOs who will be able to continue and strengthen their human rights work; the Cambodian people, to whom the RGC owes guarantees of human rights; and the international community, to exercise influence on the government and support Cambodians in the quest for respect for their human rights.