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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Justice a tool of the rich: AI

Justice a tool of the rich: AI


Two rights groups last week identified a worsening pattern of intimidation against activists in which the justice system is used as a tool of persecution

Tracey Shelton

Minority groups from throughout Rattanakkiri join together in Banlung to protest land grabbing and illegal logging of ancestral lands, in this fiile photo taken earlier this year.

CHHEA Ny was arrested without warrant, held in isolation and shackled in chains normally used to restrain elephants in a dark Phnom Penh prison cell. His crime? He had confronted local officials in Battambang province over a land rights dispute.

An intensifying pattern of intimidation among local human rights activists, in which the criminal justice system is used as a tool for the rich and powerful to threaten any who oppose them, was identified by two independent briefing papers released last week by local and international rights groups.

The government is failing to protect its citizens from such attacks despite the fact that in frequency and strength, the persecution is getting worse, both reports say.

In an attempt to draw attention to the mounting crisis, local rights group Licadho, in  its report "Attacks and Threats Against Human Rights Defenders in Cambodia 2007", highlights some of the worst abuses  against rights defenders.

They describe the plight of Khmer Krom monks, and in particular that of Tim Sokhorn, whose efforts to protest an ambiguous citizenship status at home and support of his ethnic counterparts in Vietnam led to his arrest and deportation to Vietnam where he remains under house arrest.

Not quite citizens

Jason Barber, an advocacy consultant at Licadho, told the Post: "Cambodia considers them [Khmer Krom] Cambodian citizens ... but they would certainly dispute they're treated the same as other Cambodian citizens."

Amnesty International's (AI) report  "Cambodia: A Risky Business - Defending the Right to Housing" documents a growing trend in which the Kingdom's rich and the powerful are "increasingly using their leverage to silence their adversaries through the criminal justice system". 





Nowhere is this more evident, according to AI, than in the issue of land rights, where some 150,000 Cambodians are currently at risk of forced eviction.

According to research from the local rights group Adhoc, arrests of land activists have almost doubled from 78 in 2006 to 149 in 2007.

"The rapid increase in the number of peaceful land activists in prison is a serious concern in its own right. But every imprisoned human rights defender becomes a tool for intimidation of other activists," Brittis Edman, AI's Cambodia researcher, said in a statement on Friday.

Rights organisations argue that cases like Chhea Ny's harsh imprisonment and Tim Sakhorn's deportation have an impact beyond the individuals and communities immediately involved.

Chhea Ny's wife, Oeun Sarim, told AI: "The case against Chhea Ny was an attack against the minds of people in all 21 provinces who share the same problems, to scare them. Arresting one man is to threaten hundreds of thousands of people, scaring them from struggling and advocating.... I see this as an injustice for the Cambodian people."



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