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.







Statement of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights on the Cambodia’s Attack on Press Freedom

On Monday, February 13, 2023, Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the closure of the Voice of Democracy (VOD), one of Cambodia’s last remaining independent media outlets, after a report by VOD that the deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Army Hun Manet, who is also the eldest son of Hun Sen, had signed off on foreign aid packages outside of his authority. According to Hun Sen, this report had damaged the Cambodian government’s reputation, and demanded for an apology.

Free speech and expression are critical to achieving true democracy and holding power to account. With Cambodia's upcoming national elections in July of this year, this shutdown is an attempt to control the public narrative. Rather than closing an independent media outlet, a democratic government should have conducted an investigation into the alleged unauthorized signing off of foreign aid. Media repression disables the press to fulfill its duty as the fourth estate to be society’s watchdog and whistleblower against government violations, abuse, and corruption. Free and independent journalists are needed to keep the people informed, defend the truth and ensure accountability.

The Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism condemns the attacks against independent media outlets and the continued harassment of journalists in Cambodia. The ASEAN Human Rights Declaration states that “[e]very person has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information, whether orally, in writing or through any other medium of that person’s choice.”[1] This should not only be words on paper.

We urge the Cambodian government to uphold its commitment to the ASEAN Charter to adhere to the rule of law, good governance, the principles of democracy and constitutional government by ceasing and desisting from all forms of attacks against independent media outlets, and enabling a safe environment for journalists.[2]

We call upon the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) to respond with immediate and appropriate action and fulfill its mandate to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of the peoples of ASEAN.

We also call on all ASEAN member states to stand by their commitments to and call for greater press freedom in the region.


[1] ASEAN Human Rights Declaration

[2] ASEAN Charter

Statement on the Executions and Human Rights Crisis in Myanmar

On July 25, 2022, Myanmar’s military authorities carried out the execution of four political prisoners, namely Phyo Zeya Thaw, a former hip-hop star turned National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmaker, Kyaw Min Yu, known as “Ko Jimmy”, a veteran of the 88 Generation Students Group - a Burmese pro-democracy movement known for their activism against the military junta in the 1988 student uprising, and two other pro-democracy activists, Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw. The political prisoners were sentenced to death in January 2022 in a close-door trial for aiding "terror acts" by a civilian resistance movement.

The executions are the first in Myanmar in more than three decades.

The executions, which have been unanimously condemned by the United Nations (UN) Security Council, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the international community, mark the atrocious escalation in state repression and a further regression in the human rights situation in Myanmar since the military coup in 2021.

The Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism is deeply appalled and strongly condemns the executions conducted, the depraved acts of violence, and the blatant disregard of human rights. We urge the Myanmar military to cease all violence against civilians, including the arbitrary executions and arrests and for the immediate and unconditional release of all persons arbitrarily detained. We further call on the Myanmar military authorities to uphold the respect for the rule of law, human rights, and the restoration of the democratically elected Government.

The act of serious human rights abuses committed by the Myanmar junta suggests a complete disregard of the five (5) points’ consensus [1] agreed at the Jakarta Summit on 24 April 2021 between the ASEAN leaders and Myanmar junta chief, Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing since the human rights situation in Myanmar has worsened with the brutal nationwide crackdown at suppressing the opposition to military rule.

As the violence in Myanmar continues, we call on the ASEAN member-states to act decisively and hold the Myanmar military authorities accountable for its failure to take concrete actions to effectively and fully implement the Five Point Consensus (5PC) reached at the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting. We also call for the ASEAN Human Rights bodies to initiate investigation into ongoing human rights violations since the coup d’etat in February 2021.

The ASEAN’s aspirations for lasting peace and stability will remain hollow words unless it demonstrates collective effort in chartering the genuine “justice for the people of Myanmar” and the resolution of the human rights and humanitarian crisis through forwarding strong measures to deter atrocities, extending protection and humanitarian assistance to the refugees, internally-displaced persons (IDPs), and migrants, and preventing the loss of life and the suffering of the people of Myanmar.


[1] Five (5) points: an immediate end to violence in the country; dialogue among all parties; the appointment of a special envoy; humanitarian assistance by ASEAN; and the special envoy’s visit to Myanmar to meet with all parties.

Statement of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism on the Situation in Myanmar

On February 1, 2021, the Myanmar military seized power of the nation by staging a coup and declaring a state of emergency for one year. They arrested and detained Myanmar’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and other senior officials of the National League of Democracy (NLD) in a series of raids before the opening of the parliament on the inauguration day of the continuing NLD majority government. The coup and detentions were carried out because the Myanmar military claims the results of the November 8, 2020 elections, which resulted to a landslide win of the NLD, were marred by voter fraud and the government failed to act on these claims.

The conduct of a free and fair election is a key part of a democratic system. Institution-building and strengthening have always been hallmarks of a working democracy that is founded on the human rights of the people. The coup staged by the Myanmar military shows its blatant disregard of the will of the people. A military take-over is the antithesis of a democracy. Such threatens the exercise of fundamental human rights of the people in Myanmar. If indeed there are issues regarding the conduct of elections in Myanmar, the proper recourse is through the democratic institutions.

The Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism (WG-AHRM) is deeply concerned about these events and considers the actions of the Myanmar military to be an undoing of the progress of Myanmar toward democracy, which had only been established in 2015 after five decades of military rule. The WG-AHRM urges the Myanmar military to respect and uphold the democratic process and the rule of law, and to release Myanmar’s democratically elected leaders.

We call upon the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) to respond with immediate and appropriate action and fulfill its mandate to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of the peoples of ASEAN. AICHR, as the established regional human rights body in ASEAN, holds a crucial role in the protection of human rights and should be the prominent actor with regard to human rights issues in the region.

As advocates for human rights and the rule of law, the WG-AHRM expresses it support to Myanmar and its people in their struggle for peace and democracy.