Most of the strikers were women and many of the arrests were carried out “in a violent manner,” the experts added. The arrests appeared to infringe the right to freedom of association, assembly and expression.
“We also strongly condemn the manner in which the first arrests took place, after dark, on a day when several other events distracted the public’s attention,” the experts said.
For them, this could be seen as “a devious way to suppress basic human rights and to obstruct the free exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association”.
Experts have asked the government to explain the police response and said they are closely monitoring developments.
Nine people, including seven women and two men, have so far been charged with “incitement to commit a crime” under articles 494 and 495 of the Cambodian Penal Code. They all remain in detention, while others have been released.
According to experts, these same provisions have already been used to prosecute human rights defenders in the country.
The first wave of arrests took place around 8 p.m. on December 31. The continuation of the strikes led to 17 more arrests on January 3.
The three most senior union leaders, including President Chhim Sithar, were separately arrested on January 4 as they were on their way to join the ongoing strikes.
Video footage of the arrests shows police using what appears to be excessive force during the arrests.
Causes of strike
Union leaders and activists have been on strike since December 18 against what they see as the unfair dismissal of 365 Naga World casino staff.
The layoffs came after unsuccessful negotiations with their employer, the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training, and municipal authorities in Phnom Penh.
“The pattern and modalities of these arrests, after the industrial action was not resolved quickly, appear to be an escalation of tactics used in previous cases that have occurred in Cambodia in recent years that have resulted in the unjustified imprisonment of human rights defenders, ”he added. experts said.
The Cambodian Constitution includes the right to strike and the rights to freedom of association, expression, peaceful assembly, press and publication. Cambodian labor law also guarantees the right to strike.
The obligations set out in international human rights treaties, to which Cambodia is a party, protect the same rights.
Civic space is shrinking
As the country prepares for this year’s local elections and national elections in 2023, experts said these arrests send “a frightening message to the Cambodian people about their space to assemble freely”.
Experts also called on the government to implement the recommendations they accepted during the 2019 Universal Periodic Review by the United Nations Human Rights Council, including a commitment to create conditions under which ” civil society, including human rights defenders, can freely carry out their work without interference. or hinders ”.
The UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Cambodia, Vitit Muntarbhorn, has already spoken out on the shrinking civic and political space in the country.
Independent experts, special rapporteurs and members of working groups are appointed by the Human Rights Council to monitor and report on country-specific situations or thematic issues.
They serve in an individual capacity and are not UN staff, nor are they paid by the UN for their work.