Mr Ny Sokha, Mr Yi Soksan, Mr Nay Vanda, Ms Lim Mony and Mr Ny Chakrya – also known as the “Khmer 5” – are five Cambodian human rights defenders who have been arbitrarily detained since 28 April 2016 as a result of their legitimate human rights work. The five human rights defenders have all been working in the field of human rights their entire lives, and together they have a long history of assisting victims of rights violations. They have taken leading advocacy roles, calling for the promotion and protection of human rights in Cambodia, and worked to empower thousands of Cambodians to actively defend their rights.
Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, Vanda and Lim Mony are all senior staff members of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (“ADHOC”), a Cambodian human rights NGO. Ny Chakrya is a former ADHOC staff member, and is now the Deputy Secretary-General of Cambodia’s National Election Committee (“NEC”). He is the only independent and non-partisan member of the body, responsible for election monitoring and internal audits into allegations of election fraud. ADHOC was founded by a group of former political prisoners in 1991 and is one of the leading civil society organisations protecting and promoting human rights, rule of law and democracy in Cambodia. It has played a vital role in protecting destitute victims of egregious human rights abuses, among others by providing them with advice, legal and material support.
- Ny Chakrya, before becoming the Deputy Secretary-General of the NEC, was the Head of ADHOC’s Human Rights and Monitoring section, where he focused on helping victims of rights abuses.
- Yi Soksan, a Senior Investigator is a specialist in investigating violations of land and natural resources rights, one of the most challenging and widespread human rights violations in Cambodia. He has devoted his life to promotion and protection of human rights for more than 20 years and started volunteering at ADHOC in 1991, the year it was founded.
- Lim Mony has been working to protect women’s and children’s rights in Cambodia since she started working at ADHOC in 1994. Before her arbitrary detention, she was a Senior Investigator, assisting women and girls that fell victim to gender-based violence, in particular rape and domestic violence, or that became a victim of human trafficking. She was responsible for investigating violations of women’s and children’s rights throughout Cambodia.
- Nay Vanda joined ADHOC in 2008 after leaving a career in politics to devote his life to civil society and protecting human rights in his home country. He maintained ADHOC’s local network with other civil society stakeholders, represented Cambodian civil society on a regional level and advocated for Cambodian human rights issues in ASEAN-related forums.
- Ny Sokha has been with ADHOC since 1992. At the time of Cambodia’s first United Nations-backed democratic election in 1993 he worked with ADHOC in all parts of Cambodia, managed ADHOC’s alternative dispute resolution programme, and was the Head of the Human Rights Section before his detention. Their years of service demonstrate integrity and commitment in the defence of the human rights enshrined in international human rights law and Cambodia’s Constitution and are an impressive example of the valuable work of human rights defenders all over Cambodia.
The detention of the five human rights defenders comes in the context of an increasingly severe crackdown on civil society and the political opposition in Cambodia, with many individuals facing arrest and prosecution as a result of their work. The five had collectively worked on the case of Ms Khom Chandaraty, a woman alleged to have had an extra-marital relationship with Kem Sokha, then the acting leader of Cambodia’s largest opposition party. Since April 2016 Kem Sokha has been under investigation by Cambodia’s Anti-Corruption Unit (“ACU“) for involvement in prostitution, after leaked telephone conversations appeared to reveal a relationship with Khom Chandaraty. The ACU’s zealous pursuit of the case against Kem Sokha has met with significant criticism, including, for example, from four UN Special Rapporteurs, who noted that elements of the case “suggest that this entire episode is nothing more than a politically‐motivated persecution of civil society.“ In their roles at ADHOC, the five provided legitimate and routine legal and material assistance to Chandaraty, who had approached ADHOC for support upon being subject to investigation by the Antiterrorism Unit of the Ministry of Interior and later the Prosecutor of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court as a result of the alleged affair and the leaked audio recording on her Facebook profile page. After changing her narrative from denying the alleged affair to admitting she had indeed engaged in an extra-marital relationship with Kem Sokha, on 22 April 2016, Khom Chandaraty alleged in an open letter that the five had convinced her to lie in the course of investigations.
On 27 April 2016, Nay Vanda, Ny Sokha and Yi Soksan were summoned to the ACU and interrogated at length. They were released yet threatened with arrest if they failed to appear at 8:00 on 28 April. Ny Chakrya and Lim Mony were also summoned to the ACU and questioned on 28 April. All five were arrested on 28 April at 20:00. On 2 May, the four ADHOC staff members were indicted on charges of bribery of a witness; Ny Chakrya was indicted on the same charges, however, as an accomplice. In the same decision, all five HRDs were placed in pre-trial detention. Similar to Ny Chakrya, the Investigating Judge also indicted a UN official on the basis of the same charges and as an accomplice, however, due to his immunity he was never detained; yet his charges are still pending.
Cambodian law provides for pre-trial detention for a period of six months, renewable twice. However, such detention is only permitted if certain strict criteria are fulfilled, and none of these requirements are met in the five’s case. Since their detention, the five’s lawyers have made six challenges to the denial of bail in their case, without success. While, on 13 March 2017, the Supreme Court denied the four ADHOC staffers’ challenge to the extension of their detention for a second six-month period as decided by the Investigating Judge in the end of October 2016 and upheld by the Court of Appeal in the end of November 2016, on 31 March 2017, the Supreme Court denied Ny Chakrya’s same challenge. In November 2016, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (“UNWGAD”) concluded that the five had been discriminated against on the basis of their status as human rights defenders and that this, along with violations of their right to a fair trial, renders their imprisonment ‘arbitrary’. Whilst the UNWGAD called on the Cambodian government to immediately release the five, they have now spent nearly a year behind bars with no sign of progress in the investigation or their release. To the contrary, on December 2016, the Prosecutor in fact decided to re-open the judicial investigation, after the Investigating Judge had closed it on 7 December.
The imprisonment of the five has had wide-ranging impacts on ADHOC and civil society in Cambodia at large, as the attack on them was an attack on everyone working towards the promotion and protection of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Cambodia. The killing of prominent political analyst Dr Kem Ley on 10 July 2016 was a momentum of culminating fear among outspoken critics of the government, witnessed by a resulting self-censorship. Due to these threats, ADHOC had embargoed all external communications for several months in order to avoid jeopardising the case of the five.
In August 2016, 55 Cambodian and international civil society organisations launched the #Freethe5kh campaign in support of the five human rights defenders, to raise awareness of their continued detention and call for their release. Despite their continued imprisonment and the inhumane conditions in Cambodia’s prisons and uncertainty they face, the five have shown astonishing courage and resolve. The five have repeatedly stated their determination to continue to promote human rights in Cambodia and to fight against injustice in Cambodia.
ADHOC Website: http://www.adhoc-cambodia.org
Freethe5kh Campaign: https://freethe5kh.net