Authorities Pressed on NagaWorld Detentions

Civil society groups have stepped up pressure on the ministries of Justice, Labor and Women’s Affairs to intervene in the NagaWorld conflict and drop charges against unions leaders and activists. Photo from Twitter of CCHR

Drop charges against strikers: civil society groups

PHNOM PENH--Civil society groups have stepped up pressure on the ministries of Justice, Labor and Women’s Affairs to intervene in the NagaWorld conflict and drop charges against unions leaders and activists.

The groups said they were saddened that authorities broke Cambodian constitutional laws by detaining and arresting strikers. The strikers’ rights were violated because they only used their labour rights properly to seek solutions from the company.

Instead, they were facing action from the authorities.

“We would like to remind the government that the service activities of unions are not illegal and provided protection for fundamental freedoms,” said a letter to the ministries signed by 133 civil society groups.

“The government should urge NagaWorld to peacefully and honestly negotiate with unions."

Khun Tharo, program manager at rights group CENTRAL said arrests seriously abused labour rights because of restrictions by authorities on seeking peaceful solutions.

Tharo urged Naga World to come to the table to negotiate.

“We strongly reject the spokesman for the Justice Ministry saying that unions were acting beyond their limits in exercising their rights” Tharo said.

“The right to strike peacefully is mentioned in articles 36 and 41 of the constitutional law on rights of citizens to push for respect for human rights through unions or associations.”

Ath Thon, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, said that the incitement charge against unions and activists is not right and the strike is the last choice after they followed procedures for many months without acceptable solutions.

“The strike and gathering are the legal rights of citizens. Unions and activists are following the procedures with non-violence,” Thon said.

“They deserve appreciation and encouragement to push employers exploiting their labor force instead of authorities holding them without reason.

“Arresting them makes opponents of workers and authorities instead of workers and exploitative employers,” Thon said.

The groups asked for a win-win policy by releasing union leaders and activists, providing peaceful negotiations that will avoid suffering by workers and NGOs, avoid wasting government time and have a bad impact on the economy and Cambodia’s image.

Justice Ministry spokesman Kim Santepheap posted on Facebook on Feb. 6 that arbitrary claims from unions and workers are not protected by law.

“Any act that violates the law is not a right of freedom. Please do not joke with the law, because this law is very difficult to solve,” he said.

The civil groups said the government should stop accusing unions and activists of intending to overthrow the government through a color revolution.

"When they legally exercise their rights to express their concerns and demand more respect for human rights, the government should admire and encourage them for fulfilling their roles to promote human rights and democracy in Cambodia,” the groups said.

On Feb.7 civil societies appealed to Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng and the National Assembly to address the NagaWorld strike. Demonstrations took place outside many  Cambodian embassies calling for the release of unionists.

Police are also seeking four former NagaWorld employees who they say violated the Law on Measures to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19. Three of them have since been placed in pre-trial detention at Phnom Penh Municipal Prison after they were arrested on Feb. 5. Eight leaders of the union were arrested between Dec. 31 and Jan. 4.

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