Forced evictions, land grabs and land disputes remained among the most serious human rights issues. Protests by affected families and communities increased. Activists and human rights defenders protecting the right to adequate housing faced legal action and imprisonment on spurious charges. The judiciary and the courts continued to lack independence and were used to stifle freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly; journalists, trade unionists and opposition politicians were targeted. Impunity for human rights violations remained an overriding concern. Kaing Guek Eav, aka Duch, was the first defendant to be convicted by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) for crimes against humanity committed during the Khmer Rouge period.
The authorities accepted all 91 recommendations made by UN member states under the Universal Periodic Review in March to improve human rights, including on measures to combat impunity, forced evictions and involuntary relocation and to reform the judiciary.
In June, a visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia focused on the judiciary, which he described as lacking independence and the capacity to deliver justice to all.
A new Penal Code came into force in December which included controversial provisions that limited freedom of expression.
Thousands of people around the country, including Indigenous populations, were adversely affected by forced evictions, land grabs and land disputes, some in connection with economic land concessions granted to powerful companies and individuals. Increasing numbers of individuals and communities protested and petitioned the authorities in defence of their rights to adequate housing.
In May the authorities approved a Circular on “temporary settlements on illegally occupied land”, aimed at relocating long-standing communities, some with legal tenure, from the capital, Phnom Penh and other urban areas.
In a landmark decision in July, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) convicted Kaing Guek Eav (known as Duch) for crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions for his role in mass executions, torture and other crimes during the Khmer Rouge period. Duch was the commander of security prison S-21, where at least 14,000 people were tortured and killed. He was sentenced to 35 years’ imprisonment, reduced by 16 years for time served and illegal detention. Both the prosecution and defence appealed against the sentence.
Scores of people were arrested for defending the right to housing and protesting against land grabs and forced evictions, with dozens serving sentences imposed in previous years. Most were charged with fabricated, groundless or spurious offences, such as damage to private property, incitement, robbery, and assault.
The courts were used to curtail freedom of expression and association of journalists, trade union members and opposition parliamentarians.
No comprehensive, reliable official data was available on incidents of violence against women and girls, including sexual violence, or on the number of prosecutions of suspected perpetrators. Victims faced obstacles in obtaining justice due to criminal justice system failures and out of court settlements. A shortage of services to aid and support victims added to their trauma.
© Amnesty International