Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Human rights workers feel heat after string of threats

Human rights workers feel heat after string of threats

Human rights workers feel heat after string of threats

The blacklisting of five antilogging activists and threats against other community

leaders has human rights workers concerned about an increasing climate of fear and

persecution in Cambodia.

"We are very concerned about the number of threats made against community leaders

and activists," said Margo Picken, director of the United Nations Cambodia Office

of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. "We are now looking into these cases."

Kek Galabru, director of the human rights group LICADHO, called on international

donors to step up pressure on the Cambodian government to enforce the law and protect


"Respecting human rights in Cambodia is moving backwards," said Galabru.

"I am worried about NGOs after what the government did to Global Witness, and

now, after the small NGOs in Ratanakkiri have been threatened."

On July 18, the assistant coordinator of Global Witness's Cambodia office was denied

entry to the country at Phnom Penh International Airport.

Four other Global Witness staff members were banned from the country in late June,

according to a recent Global Witness statement.

"We are very concerned that the safety of our staff [in Cambodia] is in jeopardy,"

said Mike Davis, a campaigner for Global Witness. "We want to see the entry

ban overturned as quickly as possible ... and continue our operations without any

further harassment."

In another serious incident, the head of the Highland Association in Ratanakkiri

is now in exile from her hometown after assailants came to her farm in Phum Muoy,

Bokeo district, on July 16 and shot at her brother.

"I don't dare to go to work now because I fear being killed," said Dam


Two men waited for Chanthy at her Ratanakkiri farm from July 14 to July 16, while

she was working in the provincial capital of Ban Lung.

"It was lucky for me that I did not have money to buy gasoline to go to the

farm on that weekend," Chanthy said. "My children gave me a call this week

and told me that there were two men asking villagers for them, and the villagers

said they had never heard their names."

Chanthy said her brother was on the farm with his wife when the men entered the cottage.

They requested 200,000 riel at gun point and shot between his legs. He was not injured.

Choa Neang, Ratanakkiri deputy police chief, received a complaint from Chanthy on

July 17. He said that Chanthy did not make a complaint about somebody wanting to

kill her, only that there had been a shooting on her farm.

"If she complained to me about some people wanting to kill her, I would organize

forces to guard her safety at home," he said. "Anyway, it is easy for us

to organize the force to go to her house very quickly because her house is located

behind my headquarters."

Neang said one of the two men who went to Chathy's brother's house was Long Ny from

Bokeo Chas, about 2 km from Chanthy's farm. Neither he nor the other man have been

arrested and police say they are hiding in the forest.

Neang said he has recently detained three robbery suspects who are associates of

Long Ny and the other man, and that the detainees were cooperating with police.

Two of them were arrested on July 21 in Bokeo and identified by police as Bin Boeun,

32, and Chhun Eisan, 30. Phut Tay, 19, was arrested on July 20 in Ban Lung district

"After talking to the victim and the suspects, I think this case is related

to robbery, not assassination ... because while threatening Chanthy's brother, the

two men were asking for 200,000 riel," Neang said.

However, Chanthy said her colleagues informed her that one of the suspects told the

police he was threatening to kill her because her work is affecting politics.

"I ask them, 'Which political party am I involved in?' I do not participate

in any party," said Chanthy, who was formerly a provincial-level member of the

ruling Cambodian People's Party.

"I work in an NGO for the community's benefit. In previous years, [the Highland

Association] helped settle land issues for people against some powerful people. The

powerful people now hate us."

"We do not have any support from the government even though right now I am at

risk of being killed," Chanthy said. "So far, only NGOs such as ADHOC and

others seek safe places for me to hide from the killers and help find justice for


Human rights groups are currently investigating a recent spate of threats against

community leaders around the country, including Dam Chanthy.

"The pressure on these people - often in remote and therefore vulnerable locations

- is definitely mounting," said a human rights worker on condition of anonymity.


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