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ILO weighs freedom of association

Agency reiterates calls for progress on union rights, but takes fire for failing to act.

THE International Labour Organisation is reviewing Cambodia’s compliance with a convention ensuring workers’ right to form unions without interference from employers and officials, looking in particular at steps taken to investigate past killings of prominent union leaders.

However, the committee tasked with conducting the review said last week that the government had failed to submit a report outlining steps taken to meet the convention’s requirements.

Convention 87, to which Cambodia became a party in 1999, addresses workers’ free association and collective bargaining rights.

The ILO’s Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations – which will soon conclude two weeks of meetings in Geneva to discuss various countries’ level of compliance with ILO conventions – addressed Cambodia’s compliance with Convention 87 last Monday.

Because the Cambodian delegation – led by Geneva ambassador Sun Suon and Heang Veasna, the director of the Labour Ministry’s International Cooperation Department – had not submitted a new report, the committee reiterated comments issued in August 2009.

Those comments called on the government to “take all necessary measures to ensure that the trade union rights of workers in Cambodia are fully respected, and that trade unionists are able to exercise their activities in a climate free of intimidation and risk to their personal security and their lives”.

I see many cases of individuals who have not been protected by the convention.

The comments also addressed a handful of particular cases, including the killings of Chea Vichea, former head of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia; Hy Vuthy, the FTU president at the Suntex Garment Factory; and Ros Sovannareth, a union leader at the Trinunggal Komara garment factory.
Chea Vichea was gunned down in 2004 while buying a newspaper near Wat Lanka.

Two men, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, were convicted of the crime that same year, but the Supreme Court ordered their provisional release in December 2008, citing contradictory evidence.

In light of their release, the committee urged the government to ensure that the case is closed in a satisfactory manner.

“The Committee … urges the government to ensure that the investigation [into the murder] is prompt, independent and expeditiously carried out,” it said.

In the case of Hy Vuthy, who was gunned down in 2007, the committee expressed “concern” that it had “received no information on any progress made in the investigation”. No arrests have been made in that case.

The committee also called for a review of the controversial case of Thach Saveth, who was convicted in the 2004 murder of Ros Sovannareth and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Moeun Tola, head of the labour programme at the Cambodian Legal Education Centre, called on the committee to investigate the three murders, saying it was “a big shame” that no arrests have been made in the killing of Hy Vuthy.

Chea Mony, the brother of Chea Vichea and current head of the FTU, criticised both the government and the ILO for weak implementation of Convention 87.

“The Cambodian government is a signatory to the convention, but both the country and the ILO enforce the convention poorly,” he said.

“I see many cases of individuals who have not been protected by the convention, such as murdered trade union representatives and the intimidation of individuals.”

Labour Ministry officials could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VONG SOKHENG

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