Statement of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism on the Verdict Against Cambodia Opposition Leader Kem Sokha

The Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism denounces the verdict against Kem Sokha, a Cambodia opposition leader. We are appalled by the Cambodian government’s blatant disregard of the rule of law and due process, and the lack of independence and impartiality of its courts.

Kem Sokha is the president of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), which was seen as an electoral threat to Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2017, and is one of the most central figures of the opposition in Cambodia. He has been instrumental in leading the opposition movement against the ruling regime. His political career began in human rights activism, and he has since become a prominent voice for democratic reform and social justice in Cambodia.

Kem Sokha was arrested without warrant and charged with treason in September 2017, 10 months before Cambodia’s 2018 elections.[1] The charges against him were based on allegations that he sought to overthrow the government with the help of the United States. Human rights organizations have called these allegations politically motivated. Sokha was denied bail several times until he was conditionally released on house arrest in 2018.[2] It has been reported that the trial had limited media access,[3] and was heavily biased, as the prosecution had no tangible evidence and included manipulated videos and documents, while the defense was denied access to key witnesses.[4] Early this month, the court convicted Kem Sokha of treason and was sentenced to 27 years of house arrest.

Cambodia's Constitution and laws are in line with international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD). The Constitution recognizes and protects a wide range of civil and political rights, including freedom of speech, and the right to a fair trial. The arrest, detention, and verdict of Kem Sokha is a serious breach of Cambodia's human rights obligations. It goes against the principles of democracy and a human rights.

The verdict is not only a violation of Sokha's rights but also an attack on the democratic rights of the Cambodian people. The verdict sends a clear message that anyone who wishes to challenge the ruling party will face harsh consequences. The crackdown on the opposition, civil society, and independent media[5] have made it increasingly difficult for Cambodians to voice their opinions freely, leaving little room for open and honest political debate. This verdict along with the attempts to dissolve Sokha’s opposition party and silence dissidents show the trend of repression and authoritarianism that poses a grave threat to Cambodia's democratic future.

We call on the Cambodian Government to respect rights to due process, fair trial, free speech and political participation, to ensure an independent and impartial judiciary that upholds the rule of law and safeguards civil liberties, and to immediately release Kem Sokha and allow him to resume his political activities without further persecution.







Members of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism Discuss Future Plans in Face-To-Face Meetings in Bangkok and Indonesia

MANILA, October 28, 2022 – After almost three years of virtual meetings, members of the Working Group (WG) for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism finally met face-to-face in Bangkok and Jakarta last October 7-12.

The preliminary event took place at the Sukosol Hotel in Bangkok where WG members from various ASEAN countries actively participated in a strategic meeting facilitated by the Ateneo Human Rights Center–the WG secretariat–through its Executive Director, Atty. Ray Paolo Santiago.

Among those present in the two-day strategic meeting in Bangkok were delegates from Malaysia Working Group, Philippine Working Group, Singapore Working Group, Thailand Working Group, Vietnam Working Group, and the Secretariat.

The meeting centered on in-depth discussions of WG’s objectives moving forward. This includes its short- and long-term goals.

The organization’s short-term goals, to name a few, include the intention to actively contribute to ASEAN’s Post 2025 Vision and create an annual institutionalized program carrying the brand of the WG.

Among its long-term goals are (a.) to build and strengthen relationships with partner institutions including but not limited to civil society organizations, media, parliamentarians, and human rights institutions and (b.) to widen WG networks by expanding to other ASEAN countries.

The onsite meeting also paved the way for members to assess the coalition’s successes and challenges over the past few years. Some of the most significant highlights were WG’s distribution of ASEAN COVID-19 Policy Paper at the beginning of the pandemic and its consistent online visibility through its online webinars and workshops.

Following the two-day strategic meeting in Bangkok were a series of meetings of the WG delegation with key officials in Jakarta, Indonesia from October 10-12.

In anticipation of Indonesia’s chairmanship of ASEAN in 2023, WG hopes to explore more opportunities with Indonesia in terms of strengthening human rights mechanisms in the region.

WG delegates spoke with Indonesia’s ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) Representative, Her Excellency Yunyun Wahyuningrum at the MFA Training Complex on October 10. The conversation highlighted AICHR Indonesia’s plans and priorities which include climate change, business and human rights, and right to a healthy environment, among others.

The group also consulted with other key officials in Indonesia to discuss WG’s plans and potential partnership and support for human rights initiatives. Among those who generously received the WG delegation were His Excellency Robert Mattheus Michael Tene, Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN for Political-Security Community and His Excellency Mr. Rolliansyah Soemirat, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia.

With the fruitful discussions of future plans and assessments of previous initiatives that transpired in Bangkok and Jakarta, the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism positively looks forward to an ASEAN that cultivates stronger and more sustainable human rights mechanisms across the region. This, of course, will only be possible with its stakeholders’ support including the ASEAN people.

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