The Human Rights Defenders Project seeks to compliment and reinforce the existing NGO and civil society network in support of human rights defenders (HRDs) at risk and, where that support is not forthcoming or is deemed inadequate, to ensure the necessary support can be secured from the private sector. Under the Project, CCHR will also conduct 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 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 court system in particular has played a central role in the intimidation of HRDs, with the orders of the courts used to give the appearance of legitimacy to violations of human rights. According to the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Organisation (ADHOC), in 2009 alone there were an estimated 235 criminal complaints against HRDs, 147 of whom were imprisoned.
Yet no mechanism currently exists to protect and promote the rights of HRDs in Cambodia. Although NGOs do provide some support to HRDs – including occasional and ad hoc legal aid and humanitarian support – the support that is available is sometimes inadequate and, in certain highly sensitive or political cases, even non-existent. Furthermore, a lack of understanding amongst relevant organizations of the bigger picture of the situation of HRDs hinders genuine evidence based advocacy aimed at achieving the institutional, policy and legislative changes that are necessary to ensure positive changes in government actions in respect of the rights of HRDs. Such lack of understanding also obstructs the observance and implementation of international human rights standards with respect to HRDs, particularly in relation to the panoply of rights that HRDs work to promote and protect and which are guaranteed to all Cambodians in domestic and/or international law.
By working to support the rights of HRDs, we can ensure 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 can also work to promote observance and implementation of international human rights standards.
The Project will put in place a special mechanism – a “one-stop shop” – for the promotion and protection of the rights of HRDs: providing protection to HRDs under threat, including the threat of physical violence and/or judicial intimidation, and promoting the rights of HRDs, seeking positive change in government polices and actions towards HRDs and the observance and implementation of international human rights standards in this regard. The mechanism will be collaborative, coordinating and optimizing for HRDs under threat, the support that is available from community based organizations (CBOs), sector based organizations (SBOs), and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Where that support is not forthcoming or is considered inadequate, necessary support will be secured from the private sector. The support provided to HRDs under the Project will include, although will not be limited to, legal advice and representation, humanitarian aid, and advocacy advice.
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 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 intended beneficiaries in the short-term are the aided HRDs themselves, though in the long term the result of this Project will benefit all HRDs throughout Cambodia, therefore all Cambodians. The target audience for the dialogue and advocacy is the Royal Government of Cambodia, who have an obligation to respect, protect and promote human rights, 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.