Cambodia rejects UN spokesman’s call for release of union leader

A UN human rights statement on Chhim Sithar’s case ‘amounts to contempt’ for Cambodian courts.
By RFA Khmer
2024.05.06
Cambodia rejects UN spokesman’s call for release of union leader Cambodia union leader Chhim Sithar waves to supporters as she leaves Phnom Penh Municipal Court on May 25, 2023.
(AFP)

A U.N. spokesman’s call for the immediate release of a prominent union leader “amounts to contempt for Cambodian judiciary’s competency and integrity,” a statement from Cambodia’s diplomatic mission to the United Nations in Geneva said.

The statement on Sunday followed remarks from Jeremy Laurence, who said the U.N. human rights office was concerned about Friday’s decision by the Cambodian Supreme Court to uphold Chhim Sithar’s 2023 prison sentence.

“We call for her immediate release,” Laurence said in a statement on Friday.

Police initially arrested Chhim Sithar in December 2021, charging her with “inciting social chaos” for leading a peaceful strike at the NagaWorld Hotel and Entertainment Complex, one of the world’s most profitable gambling centers located in the capital of Phnom Penh.

ENG_KHM_UNMission_05062024.2.jpg
A supporter of Cambodia union leader Chhim Sithar holds up a placard outside Phnom Penh Municipal Court on May 25, 2023. (AFP)

She was arrested again after returning to Cambodia from a labor conference in Australia in November 2022 for violating bail conditions that apparently restricted her from leaving the country. She was sentenced to two years in prison.

Chhim Sithar is the only one of nine people convicted in the case who is behind bars, Laurence said. 

“They were convicted for simply exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association,” he said. “The rights to peaceful assembly and association include the right to hold meetings, sit-ins and strikes, and the right of individuals to interact and organize among themselves.”

Cambodia’s diplomatic mission responded, saying the court’s decisions have been based on “concrete evidence” and due process.

Cambodia’s judicial system is independent of other authorities, and a decision on whether to drop charges or quash a conviction “entirely remains within the discretion of the courts,” the mission said.

ENG_KHM_UNMission_05062024.3.jpg
Supporters of NagaWorld’s union leader Chhim Sithar hold a protest in front of Phnom Penh Municipal Court on May 25, 2023. (Heng Sinith/AP)

The statement from the mission repeated the allegation that the 2021 strike was unlawful and “foreign funded.”

Thousands of NagaWorld employees walked off their jobs during the strike, demanding respect for labor law and unions, higher wages and better working conditions.  

Chhim Sithar’s arrest was condemned by NagaWorld strikers, civil society officials and the U.S. State Department. 

Radio Free Asia was unable to reach Sreang Chenda, the spokesman for the Cambodian government’s Human Rights Committee, for further clarification on Monday.

Translated by Sum Sok Ry. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

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