Front Line Defenders believes that the summons received by a labor rights advocate in Cambodia is directly related to his peaceful and legitimate activities in the defense of human rights, particularly his attempts to improve working conditions in Cambodia. The Dublin-based international human rights organization is concerned that this may be an illegitimate attempt to intimidate the trade union leader and local employees into desisting from any further protest actions.
On August 29th, human rights defender Rong Chlun received a summons to appear at Kandal Provincial Court on September 11th for questioning in relation to criminal allegations made against him. Rong Chuun is President of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions and a prominent labor rights advocate.
Rong Chhun has been calling for an increase in worker wages in Cambodia, especially after the most recent wave of factory worker faintings in that country. charged that low salaries are contributing to widespread worker malnutrition, saying workers do not have enough money to spend on food.
“We have appealed to the government, employers, and buyers to reconsider workers salaries,” he said.
The summons issued to Rong Chhun relates to a complaint made by Jack Liu, Director-General of Tai Yang Enterprises, alleging that the trade union leader incited Tai Yang Enterprises employees to protest illegally and also accusing him of defamation. It is reported that Wu Ming Huor, a factory manager for Tai Yang Enterprises, also accused the human rights defender of destroying the company’s business, claiming that several large international customers have drastically reduced their orders as a result of a strike at Tai Yang Enterprises factories.
The complaint against Rong Chhun relates to protests against the reported refusal of Tai Yang Enterprises to pay bonuses provided for under national labor law. These protests began on June 25th and over 3,000 workers have taken part in a number of peaceful demonstrations. It is believed that the allegation of defamation against Rong Chhun may be related to comments he made about the changing of the name of the company. During the protests he reportedly said that Tai Yang Enterprises had changed its name in order to avoid paying seniority bonuses to staff and taxes to the state.
Authorities attempted to arrest Rong Chhun on several occasions during the protests. However, the striking workers surrounded him on each occasion in order to peacefully prevent his arrest.
The Cambodian Center for Human Rights said that Rong Chhun “was not worried by this summons, nor is he surprised by it because powerful employers frequently use the court system to warn employees and unions to put an end to their protests.”
Front Line Defenders believes that the summons received by Rong Chhun is directly related to his peaceful and legitimate activities in the defense of human rights, particularly his attempts to improve working conditions in Cambodia, and is concerned that this may be an illegitimate attempt to intimidate the trade union leader and Tai Yang Enterprises employees into desisting from any further protest actions.
The summons came on the same day that Mr. Rong praised a report from the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia report as highlighting “much-needed truth.”
Surya Subedi, the U.N. Special Rapporteur, warned in the report that Cambodia may plunge into violence if it does not reform the current electoral system to allow for fair and free elections. He also said that the human costs of economic land concessions have been high.
Cambodian government officials rejected the report, saying that it did not portray an accurate picture of the current status of human rights in the country.
Mr. Rong said agreed with the findings of the report, saying that ”The rights to assembly and expression, and the rights to housing and agricultural land, have been threatened by the government’s economic land concessions.”