Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has joined the call on the Cambodian government to free the five Cambodian human rights defenders (HRDs) who are serving sentences for trumped-up charges of bribery as a consequence of their activism.
De Lima, recognized as one of the notable women human rights defenders under threat, said she believes the intimidation of HRDs is part of the Cambodian authorities’ tactic to suppress any form of criticism or opposition against the government.
“We call upon the Cambodian government to abide by the commitments it made both to the international community and to its own people by freeing these five HRDs. A strong government uses its might to protect and bring justice to all of its subjects,” she said in her recent Dispatch from Crame No. 392.
“Now is a critical opportunity for the Cambodian government, and especially its leadership, that its strength lies not in oppressing the powerless, but in its capacity to fairly administer justice and promote the Rule of Law which, by definition, means not using the justice system as a political weapon and, instead, respecting the human rights of all,” she added.
Last Sept. 26, current and former staff members of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), namely, Nay Vanda, Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, Lim Mony and Ny Chakrya were sentenced to five years in prison for the fabricated charge of “bribery of a witness.”
De Lima noted the case arose in 2016 when the five human rights workers provided legal assistance to a victim of government harassment whom the Hun Sen government alleged to have had an extramarital affair with a detained opposition leader.
She lamented that the said HRDs were denied the right to challenge the testimonies of prosecution witnesses and were convicted despite the prosecution’s failure to identify the witness they allegedly bribed and present any credible evidence against them.
De Lima likened the situation of five HRDs to that of the human rights defenders here in the country, including herself, who are on the receiving end of attacks by the government for challenging the crooked policies of the Duterte administration.
“This phenomenon is inextricably connected to the bigger picture of a government that stifles dissent, muffles criticisms and ultimately smothers democracy in our country,” she said.
The Senator from Bicol reminded the Philippine and Cambodian governments that as signatories to the 1998 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, they are mandated under Section 12 thereof to take all necessary measures to ensure that HRDs are themselves protected against “any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary actions.”
With the growing number of attacks against HRDs under the present administration, De Lima filed Senate Bill No. 1699 last February which seeks to institutionalize and enforce state obligations for the protection of their rights.
Considered as a leading prisoner of conscience, De Lima is currently detained at the police headquarters in Quezon City for trumped-up drug charges fabricated by the Duterte administration, borne out of Duterte’s personal vendetta against her.