Cambodia: HRW World Report 2000 FREE    Join the HRW Mailing List 
Cambodian Human Rights Workers Intimidated, Threatened with Arrest
(New York, April 9, 2000) -- Human Rights Watch today condemned threats of arrest against staff members of the Cambodian human rights organization Licadho (the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights). The threats are reportedly because of its role in providing humanitarian assistance to victims of labor abuse, including ethnic Vietnamese minorities.

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Cambodia: Focus on Human Rights

"Any legal action against Licadho in this case is clearly unwarranted and should be condemned for what it is -- a transparent attempt to crack down on the legitimate activities of human rights groups in Cambodia."

Mike Jendrzejczyk,
Washington Director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch

During the past two weeks, the Cambodian media has published a series of potentially inflammatory statements attacking Licadho for assisting a group of victims of human trafficking and exploitative labor conditions, some of whom are Vietnamese. Cambodian authorities now appear to be on the verge of arresting Licadho staff because of the human rights group's assistance to the workers.

"Any legal action against Licadho in this case is clearly unwarranted and should be condemned for what it is -- a transparent attempt to crack down on the legitimate activities of human rights groups in Cambodia," said Mike Jendrzejczyk, Washington director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division.

The Vietnamese workers had been trafficked to Cambodia to labor in a Phnom Penh garment factory, where they were detained and made to work in exploitative conditions. They were rescued from the factory on February 17 and placed in a temporary safe house, following intervention by municipal court authorities, secured by both Licadho and United Nations human rights staff. The plan was for the ethnic Vietnamese workers, who lack legal authorization to reside in Cambodia, to return to Vietnam once they had secured outstanding wages owed them from the factory.

Local authorities have insisted that Licadho should be held responsible for the subsequent departure of a number of workers from the safe house. Last month, a Licadho staff member was detained for several hours by police and interrogated about the missing workers. In recent days local officials, in conversations with human rights workers, have threatened the arrest of Licadho staff. Rasmei Kampuchea, the country's largest-selling newspaper, has also published a series of articles attacking Licadho and stating that the group should be brought to court for failing to prevent the workers from leaving the safe house. Licadho has also received anonymous warnings, threatening that demonstrators would attack the group's office in Phnom Penh.

"The Cambodian government should act to prevent, and punish, any acts of violence against ethnic minorities or human rights staff workers," said Jendrzejczyk. "Licadho simply arranged for the Vietnamese workers to have food and a roof over their heads. They shouldn't be punished or threatenedwhen they had no authority whatsoever to restrict the movements of the rescued workers."

Human Rights Watch noted that the ethnic Vietnamese issue is a particularly sensitive one in Cambodia, and there has been violence against Vietnamese people in the past.

For more information:

Mike Jendrzejczyk (Washington, DC) +1 202 612 4341