Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ) communities have raised concerns that their freedom of expression, association and assembly are at risk amid a crackdown on civil society and independent media, according to a report published by a rights organisation on Wednesday.
The report by NGO Destination Justice, Revealing the Rainbow: The Human Rights Situation of LGBTIQ HRDs in Southeast Asia, argues that although the Cambodian LGBTIQ community in recent years has seen an improvement in their freedom of expression, these gains are now at risk due to recent political developments in the country.
“Since mid-2017, Cambodia appears to have entered a phase of greater political uncertainty in which fundamental freedom and the freedom of civil society and independent media appear to be under increasing threat,” they write. “Under such circumstances . . . vulnerable communities such as LGBTIQ remain at risk.”
They also highlight that the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations (Lango) leaves human rights defenders, including LGBTIQ activists, vulnerable.
Lango, which entered into force in 2015, has been subject to much criticism in Cambodia and internationally due to an unclear legal framework, opening ways for arbitrary application.
Despite a perceived improvement in the Cambodian government’s stance towards LGBTIQ citizens, it isn’t only Lango that puts them at risk, according to the report.
“So too does the apparently shrinking space for the freedoms of expression, thought, and participation in public life as evidenced by the Cambodian Supreme Court’s forced recent closure of the leading opposition party, and the Cambodian government’s closure or suspension of independent media outlets and civil society organisations,” the report states.
Srun Srorn, LGBTIQ activist and Founder of CamAsean Youth’s Future, agreed with the report. “We are worried. Before when we wanted to post or write something . . . we did it but now we are more scared. We are the ones who work for human rights, but we are scared to express our opinion, and organise meetings,” he said.
“The threat towards NGOs surprised us because we work for human rights but human rights NGOs [appear to be] under attack.”
Those identifying as transgender also noted that activities promoting LGBTIQ rights seemed to be on the decline.
Chhin Kimtouch, a 45-year-old transgender woman who does volunteer work in Battambang, said she noticed events weren’t happening as often. “Last year I did a lot of work to promote LGBTIQ-related issues such as a public health forum and health education sessions for members of the community, but this year there were very few [activist events].”
“Maybe the NGOs lack funds and as a result we were overlooked. When more people were campaigning authorities seemed to understand more about us. But now there is little work going on to promote understanding.”