ITUC Calls on Cambodia to Stop Repressing Unions and Release Detained Union Leaders

The ITUC condemns the arrest on 31 July and the prosecution of Rong Chhun, the president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions (CCU) and prominent unionist in Cambodia. He was arrested for his comments about the land loss of farmers and irregularities in the border demarcations between Cambodia and Vietnam.

Recently Rong Chhun called for the release of four teachers criminalized for criticizing the government and conducting online classes during school closures under COVID-19. He called for improvements in human rights before Cambodia lost trade preferences with the EU on 12 August. And he led demonstrations in Phnom Penh for the legal entitlements of the terminated workers at Violet Apparel factory.

At least seven protesters and CCU members have been arrested for demanding, in defiance of the government’s warnings, Rong Chhun’s release, including Sor Saknika, president of the Cambodian Informal Labourers’ Association (CILA), who was arrested, together with two other members, on 7 August. She is held under pre-trial detention for incitement. On 10 August, Ouk Chayavy, former president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association (CITA), was attacked by unknown thugs while riding her motorbike home after visiting Rong Chhun in prison. She is leading the Free Rong Chhun campaign and is in the process of submitting petitions to the UN and country representations.

The Cambodian government is clamping down on freedom of expression for trade unionists and dissidents in order to silence vocal trade unionists and labour protests. The recent administrative ban on public protests without prior approval in Phnom Penh, and the draft Public Order Law, will further curb the right to peaceful assembly and fundamental freedoms on a broad scale.

In February, the ITUC and the ETUC supported the EU’s decision to lift the Everything But Arms trade preferences with Cambodia for lack of improvements on human and trade union rights. On 12 August, the partial withdrawal of Cambodia’s duty-free access to the European market became effective.

The ITUC and Global Union Federations urge the government of Cambodia to drop the charges and release Rong Chhun and the detainees. We support the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia. The government of Cambodia should respect the rights of civil society organizations to undertake activities and organize peaceful assemblies without surveillance, legal harassment and use of excessive police force.

Links to statements and campaign updates: