Cambodian Government Ends Baseless Prosecution of Moeun Tola
August 2, 2018
I am writing to share this memo with good news from Cambodia: the end of the baseless criminal prosecution of Moeun Tola, a key WRC partner and the Executive Director of a leading labor rights organization in that country, CENTRAL (the Center for the Alliance of Labor and Human Rights). For the past six months, Tola has faced fabricated criminal charges and the possibility of indefinite pretrial detention, as part of a broader campaign of suppression of basic civil and human rights in Cambodia. On July 9, 2018, all pending charges against Tola were dismissed by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. The window for appeal has now closed, meaning that the prosecution is now over. The end of this baseless prosecution removes the looming threat of wrongful imprisonment and will enable Tola to resume his efforts to protect the rights of Cambodian workers.
Cambodia’s clampdown in recent years on independent civil society advocates, media outlets, and the country’s key opposition political party (which has been documented by Human Rights Watch among others), coupled with damaging changes to Cambodia’s labor law in 2016, has significantly restricted Cambodian garment workers’ ability to exercise their associational rights, including at factories producing collegiate apparel. No Cambodian garment worker, including those producing university logo apparel, can freely exercise associational rights in this context.
Given this, the WRC has taken a leading role in convening human rights and workers’ rights organizations to address the shrinking space for freedom of association and free speech in Cambodia. In response to the baseless charges against Tola, the WRC worked with other international human rights and labor rights organizations to contact university licensees and other brands sourcing from Cambodia, urging them to press the Government of Cambodia to dismiss all of these charges. The actions of these brands, individually and through organizations including the Fair Labor Association and the American Apparel and Footwear Association, was key to the government’s decision to stop pursuing the fabricated charges against Tola.
Cambodia held national parliamentary elections last Sunday, which the White House noted were “neither free nor fair and failed to represent the will of the Cambodian people;” other international observers shared this assessment. In the wake of this election, continued engagement by labor organizations and key brands with the government on issues of worker rights and, in particular, freedom of association, remains essential. Baseless charges are still pending against the two other civil society activists who were charged along with Tola as a result of the same fabricated criminal complaint. In addition, the heads of six leading Cambodian garment worker unions have been facing similarly baseless criminal charges since 2014, as a result of which they are subject to indefinite court supervision orders that limit their work and their associational rights.
The WRC will continue to our work to address the misuse of the Cambodian legal system to silence garment worker leaders and advocates, as well as our ongoing efforts to address other systemic violations of associational rights in Cambodia. I encourage you to review our memo on Tola’s case for additional information on Tola and the fabricated charges against him, and to contact me if you have any further questions about the situation in Cambodia.
Worker Rights Consortium