BANGKOK (30 June 2021) – UN Human Rights and the UN Environment Programme are concerned by the detention of environmental human rights defenders in Cambodia.
On 16 June, four activists working for Mother Nature Cambodia (MNC), a grassroots organisation that advocates for the protection and preservation of Cambodia's natural environment, were arrested by the anti-cybercrime department of the General Commissariat of the National Police.
“We are living in the midst of an environmental crisis. Civil society which peacefully advocates for the environment is a fundamental partner in addressing the challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution,” said Dechen Tsering, the UN Environment Programme’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.
At least 24 human rights defenders, 12 of whom are women, are currently in detention in Cambodia.
“It is imperative to stop the use of all punitive measures routinely leveled against human rights and environmental rights workers in Cambodia. Human rights and environmental work are not criminal offences,” said Cynthia Veliko, South-East Asia Representative for the UN Human Rights Office in Bangkok.
“We urge the authorities to ensure that human rights and civil society organizations in Cambodia can operate without fear and intimidation and that their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association are protected and respected,” Veliko said.
The arrests of MNC activists raises renewed concern for the shrinking space for human rights defenders in Cambodia, an issue previously highlighted by the UN Secretary-General in August 2020.
The United Nations entities call on the Cambodian Government to abide by its international human rights commitments, including recommendations made by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and recommendations voluntarily accepted during the Universal Periodic Review, to guarantee the rights of human rights defenders and environmentalists to freedom of expression, assembly and association, without harassment, surveillance or other undue restrictions. Promotion and protection of human rights to the environment is not a crime.
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