The BWI is amongst 100 organisations calling for the charges against Cambodian human rights defender Tola Moeun to be immediately dropped. Tola is the Executive Director of the Centre for the Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL). Prior to this position, Mouen was BWI Trade Union Development Project Coordinator in Cambodia. For Ambet Yuson, general secretary of the BWI: “The charges that have been filed against him are arbitrary and politically-motivated, with no basis in the rule of law.”
Yuson added: “Tola has been a tireless advocate in the struggle to ensure human and labour rights as for all workers in Cambodia." On 18 January 2018 the Phnom Penh Court deputy prosecutors issued preliminary charges for “breach of trust” against Tola and two other prominent civil society leaders, press freedom advocate Pa Nguon Teang and activist monk Venerable But Buntenh, seeking an order of pre-trial detention.
The charges allege that the three men had misappropriated funds raised for the funeral of activist Kem Lay, who was gunned down publicly after the publication of a report detailing corruption amongst Cambodia’s ruling elite. At the time the charges were filed, all three men were outside of Cambodia; if they return they will surely be arrested.
Human Rights Watch has called the charges “politically motivated legal harassment”, and they are part of a concerning restriction of democratic space that is occurring in Cambodia. In 2017 this included the dissolution of the main opposition party and the banning of its elected representatives from political positions.
At the 2017 BWI World Congress in Durban, a resolution was passed that expressed alarm over the political climate in Cambodia, in particular the draconian Trade Union Law 2016, which restricts the rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining. Particularly relevant here is the restriction on workers with criminal convictions from holding union leadership positions.
The resolution calls for the suspension of that law and the implementation of the ILO’s 2016 recommendations calling for an intimidation-free climate for all workers, as well as “dropping all criminal charges against trade union leaders exercising their legitimate rights … demanding better working conditions.”
“What has unfolded in Cambodia in the last 18 months has been a total about-turn on the progress of the previous decade. Now that the political opposition and independent media have been effectively removed from the picture, the ability of workers and trade unions to seek justice through democratic institutions has been seriously debilitated,” added Yuson. “It is time for the international community to take notice of what is happening in Cambodia.”
The full statement is available here.