International humanitarian spending dropped by $284 million between 2019 and 2020; the UK cut funding by the most, $900 million, offsetting increases by others, such as $800 million more from Germany.
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Mother Nature Cambodia activist Sun Ratha waves to her family as she is brought to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on June 19, 2021.
© 2021 LICADHO
(Bangkok) – The Cambodian government should immediately drop baseless conspiracy and “insulting the king” charges against four environmental activists affiliated with the Mother Nature Cambodia environmental group and release the three in pretrial detention, Human Rights Watch said today.
On June 16, 2021, the police arrested Sun Ratha, 26, Ly Chandaravuth, 22, and Seth Chhivlimeng, 25, in Phnom Penh, and Yim Leanghy, 32, in Kandal province, apparently for their documentation that raw sewage has entered the Tonle Sap River near the Royal Palace. On June 20, the court charged Ratha and Leanghy with “conspiracy” and lese majeste (“insulting the king”) under articles 453 and 437 bis of Cambodia’s penal code, and Chandaravuth with “conspiracy.” If convicted, they face between 5 and 10 years in prison, and fines of up to 10 million riels (US$2,500). The authorities also charged in absentia a Spanish national, Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, the founder of Mother Nature Cambodia, who had been deported in 2015. Chhivlimeng was released without charge.
“The Cambodian government has stepped up its campaign to silence activists peacefully advocating to protect the environment,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “Foreign governments, the United Nations country team, and international donors should call on the Cambodian authorities to drop their absurd charges against the environmental activists and publicly condemn any further clampdown on peaceful activism.”
An Interior Ministry spokesperson alleged that the authorities had proof that “rebellious” Mother Nature Cambodia had used foreign funding to try to topple the government, but did not make any evidence public.
This case followed earlier harassment of five Mother Nature Cambodia activists. On May 5, the Phnom Penh court convicted three environmental activists – Long Kunthea, 22, Phuon Keoraksmey, 19, and Thun Ratha, 29 – of “incitement to commit a felony or disturb social order,” articles 494 and 495 of Cambodia’s penal code. The judge sentenced them to between 18 and 20 months in prison as well as a fine of 4 million riels ($1,000) for their peaceful activism protesting the authorities’ filling-in Phnom Penh’s Boeung Tamok lake.
All three activists had been arrested in September 2020 and spent almost eight months in pretrial detention. Gonzalez-Davidson and Chea Kunthin, another activist, were also convicted in absentia and sentenced to between 18 and 20 months in prison.
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the Cambodian authorities have stepped up their crackdown on youth and environmental activists engaged in peaceful activism and protest. The government has often used draconian new laws to arrest and prosecute activists in an apparent attempt to silence their voices and shut down their activism.
In March 2020 and early 2021, the authorities arrested environmental activists affiliated with the Prey Lang Community Network along with a prominent environmentalist and lawyer, Ouch Leng, to stop their efforts to document illegal logging and deforestation within the Prey Lang forest.
The United States government, in part because of the harassment of environmental activists, announced on June 17 that it would halt over $100 million in funding for the Cambodian government’s “Greening Prey Lang” project. The funds are being redirected to civil society groups working on environmental protection.
Human Rights Watch has documented cases of nearly 70 current political prisoners, including members of the political opposition, youth and environmental activists, trade union leaders, and journalists who are awaiting trial or are serving prison sentences. Many other activists have fled Cambodia to seek refuge abroad.
Because of the higher risks of getting Covid-19 in prison, Human Rights Watch has repeatedly appealed to the Cambodian authorities to conditionally release pretrial detainees not held for violent offenses. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and civil society groups have often criticized the government’s routine use of pretrial detention.
“Cambodia’s highly politicized courts mean that the environmental activists charged have no chance of getting a fair trial,” Robertson said. “Only international pressure on the Cambodian government holds out the possibility of saving these activists from unjust prison sentences.”
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Transgender people in Malaysia face discrimination and abuses by government officials and agents, including public sector medical staff, teachers and local government officials. © 2014 Javad Tizmaghz Photography by Human Rights Watch
© © 2014 Javad Tizmaghz for Human Rights Watch
“I have never had official employment,” Aisha (not her real name), a Malaysian trans woman who does sex work, told Human Rights Watch and Justice for Sisters in 2019. “I tried. I applied for a job selling perfume, but the employer said they would only accept me if my gender was female on my [identity card].”
The gender marker on Malaysian identity cards matter. A 2019 study by SUHAKAM, Malaysia’s human rights commission, found that 57 percent of trans women interviewed in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor had experienced discrimination, including being denied employment, education, housing, or health care because their appearance did not match the gender on their identity card. This discrimination pushes many trans people like Aisha to society’s margins.
International human rights standards provide clear guidance on addressing this problem through legal gender recognition, a process allowing people to change their legal documentation to match their gender identity. A legal gender recognition policy could allow anyone to change the gender marker on their identity documents from female to male or vice versa, or to a third gender option, as a number of Malaysia’s neighbors provide for, including Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan. Some countries have no gender markers on public-facing identity documents, while others are moving to remove them. In many interactions that require an identification document, such as renting an apartment, voting, or bank transactions, a person’s gender is irrelevant.
To advance its human rights mandate, SUHAKAM recently advertised for a researcher to study possible approaches to legal gender recognition in Malaysia. The posting attracted opposition, including from the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), a member of the ruling coalition, and the Department of Islamic Development (JAKIM), which promotes enforcement of state laws punishing trans Muslims with prison time and mandatory “counseling” for not dressing in accordance with the gender designation on their identity card. In opposing the research, they claim that allowing changes of gender markers on official documents would promote same-sex relations, violate Islamic precepts, and “desecrate human rights.”
Malaysian civil society organizations quickly debunked JAKIM’s claims by demonstrating that legal gender recognition is a rights imperative. SUHAKAM should remain steadfast in its commitment to finding solutions for people like Aisha who would benefit greatly from being able to change the gender marker on their identity documents.
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EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell at a news conference unveiling a report on proposals for the EU stance on Russia. Brussels, Wednesday, June 16, 2021.
© 2021 Johanna Geron/Pool Photo via AP
EU-Russia relations will be on the agenda of the European Council, which defines the European Union’s political priorities, when it meets on 24-25 June. It’s an important time for the EU to call out the Kremlin for human rights violations committed in Russia.
As the EU implements its “principled pragmatism” approach to its affairs with Russia, it should stay true to its human rights commitments. Supporting Russia’s civil society and Kremlin critics who face harassment, intimidation, and persecution should be key.
The EU has rightly condemned the poisoning, and later jailing, of the Russian government’s key opposition figure, Alexey Navalny, and recently acknowledged that Russia “uses growing political repression.” But it needs to reflect on the full scope of this repression.
Here in Russia, activists use the expression “the Kremlin’s flywheel of repression.”
For the past year, it’s been an endless onslaught. A swarm of new oppressive laws target civic groups, individual activists, media, and even educational activities. A newly expanded definition of “foreign agents” jeopardizes an indefinite number of activists and critics, who now – as the Kremlin likely intended – second guess their every publication or social media post, lest they face fines or criminal prosecution. Authorities recently slapped more media outlets with this toxic label, putting some of them at risk of closure.
The Kremlin blacklists organizations as “undesirable” without explanation, including respected EU-based groups. Now, people in Russia risk administrative and criminal sanctions if they engage with these groups. New bills propose expanding this ban beyond Russia’s borders and make it immeasurably easier to imprison “offenders.” A growing number of activists have already been branded as criminals or are behind bars on these outrageous charges.
The authorities abuse Russia’s anti-extremism legislation to outlaw prominent critics as well as to oppress minority religious groups. They’ve used the global pandemic to ban opposition public assemblies, while cynically gathering crowds for pro-Kremlin events.
Even performance artists critical of Russia’s situation, as well as some educational initiatives connected to overseas institutions, have become targets of repression.
Acknowledging this onslaught, the EU should be unambiguous in its message that Russian authorities can be trusted partners only if they uphold core rights-based values. The EU should urge the Kremlin to end its crackdown on critics and repeal abusive laws, and instead to support and engage with independent civic groups and critical voices.