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.