The ICJ calls for an end to escalating repression of civil society in Cambodia

Today, the ICJ called on the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) to end the escalating repression of civil society in Cambodia and reverse the rapidly deteriorating rule of law and human rights crisis in the country.

Yesterday, it was reported that Prime Minister Hun Sen called for the shut down of one of Cambodia’s leading, independent NGOs, Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR), and directed the Ministry of Interior to investigate CCHR for its alleged engagement with “foreigners”.

The Prime Minister’s statement appeared to allude to alleged involvement of CCHR in a supposed foreign-backed “colour revolution” to overthrow the government.

“The Cambodian Center for Human Rights plays an essential, independent role in promoting and protecting human rights in Cambodia and must be able to continue its important work without fear of retaliation, reprisal or other unjustified interference,” said Kingsley Abbott, the ICJ’s Senior International Legal Adviser for Southeast Asia.

“Everyone has the right to form and participate in organizations established to work on human rights, and States have a corresponding duty to protect the ability of such organizations and their participants to carry out their work to promote and defend human rights,” he added.

This latest development comes amidst a severe clampdown by the RGC on perceived dissenting voices including civil society, activists, the independent media and political opposition including through the recent dissolution of the major opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), in what appeared to be a highly politicized Supreme Court proceeding, and the arrest and detention of its leader, Kem Sokha.

“This new, targeted focus on the Cambodian Center for Human Rights by the Government should make it clear that the human rights and rule of law crisis gripping Cambodia is not showing any signs of abating and requires the urgent attention of the international community,” said Abbott.

“All legal, political and economic options should be on the table,” he added.


Kingsley Abbott, Senior International Legal Adviser, ICJ Asia Pacific Regional Office, t: +66 94 470 1345, e:


CCHR was founded by Kem Sokha in 2002 before he left the organization in 2007 to pursue a career in politics.

Yesterday, CCHR released a statement “reaffirming its absolute non-partisanship and independence from all political parties” and emphasizing “strict independence” as a core value of its organization. CCHR also asserted in its statement that an “independent and impartial investigation would find no wrongdoing whatsoever on the part of the organization” and called for “meaningful dialogue” with the RGC.

Articles 19 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Cambodia is a State Party, guarantees the rights of all persons to freedom of expression and opinion and to freedom of association with others.

The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by a consensus of States at the UN General Assembly, including Cambodia, affirms the right of everyone to form and participate in NGOs to promote and protect human rights. The Declaration further dictates that states should take all necessary measures to protect human rights defenders from retaliation and other forms of arbitrary action as a consequence of their legitimate work.

On 18 October 2017, the ICJ released a report which found that the RGC was increasingly “weaponizing” the law to restrict dissent and attack democracy. The report recorded that the “single largest problem facing the Cambodian justice system is the lack of independent and impartial judges and prosecutors,” which includes “an endemic system of political interference in high-profile cases and an equally entrenched system of corruption in all others”.

On 23 October 2017, the 26th anniversary of the 1991 Paris Peace Conference on Cambodia, the ICJ, together with 54 other organizations, issued an open letter to the United Nations Secretary-General and the Conference’s co-chairs calling for the reconvening of the members of the Conference and other concerned stakeholders for an emergency summit to address the human rights crisis in the country.