Thirteen women human rights defenders in Cambodia have been sentenced to prison terms. They have played a leading role in peaceful protesting against expropriation and forced evictions in the Boeung Kak Lake area in central Phnom Penh, where over 3.000 families have been forcibly evicted from their homes. Civil Rights Defenders urges the authorities vacate the conviction and unconditionally release the women.
The trial fell far short of international standards of fairness. “The Civil Rights Defenders” organization reports that the trial took three hours and the court rejected the defense team’s request for time to prepare their cases. The court did not permit the defense to call witnesses, and did not provide them with the case files or evidence.
Together with several other human rights organizations, Civil Rights Defenders wrote an open letter to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, urging the authorities to repeal the flawed decision of the court and protect the right to freedom of expression and assembly.
P.S. Massive forced evictions and silenced protests
The dispute and forced evictions around Boeung Kak goes back to 2007 when a company, Shukaku Inc., was granted a land concession for 99 years for the area, and turned the lake into a landfill. They were also granted concession over the surrounding areas, which housed around 4.200 families. The company is led by a senator from Cambodia’s ruling party, the Cambodian People’s Party.
The land concession led to forced evictions of around 15.000 people. The authorities have severely restricted their ability to protest against the decisions that affect them and to make their voices heard. The thirteen women have emerged as informal leaders of the community and have peacefully and creatively defended the community’s human rights. They have continuously been harassed, intimidated and blocked from organizing, but in 2011, their struggle led to a small piece of land being transferred from the Shukaku back to the remaining approximately 600 families.