“We are concerned that the defendants in this case were treated unfairly on account of their participation in the protests,” ISLP Executive Director Garth Meintjes said, noting that “the absence of a presumption of innocence, the failure to afford the defense the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses, and the judge’s decision to raise new, more serious charges at the end of the trial all point to a lack of respect for fundamental criminal justice norms.”
The defendants in the observed cases—21 of whom were dressed at trial in shirts that read “guilty person” in Khmer—were all arrested on January 2-3, 2014, when they gathered with thousands of other garment workers to protest the government’s refusal to grant their anticipated minimum wage increase. Twenty-one of the defendants were detained for several months, and some were denied much-needed medical attention, before eventually being granted a trial. At trial, monitors observed proceedings that were decidedly stacked against the defendants, as evidenced by the judge’s overt preferential treatment of the prosecution despite a lack of incriminating evidence. In the end, all 23 defendants were convicted, though their sentences were suspended under heavy pressure from international companies and rights groups.
“The treatment of the defendants both before and during trial calls into question Cambodia’s commitment to respecting fundamental human rights and fair trial principles, and signals the government’s reluctance to respond appropriately to serious concerns regarding labor conditions in the nation’s garment manufacturing industry,” said ISLP Human Rights Program Director Heather Eisenlord. “It is critical to publicize the injustice in the garment workers’ cases now, since as of August of this year the number of faintings and deaths among Cambodian garment workers had already dramatically surpassed any year on record.”
ISLP commends international actors who have taken independent steps to address these issues, including the eight major fashion retailers who just this week offered to pay more for garments produced in Cambodia in order to meet the protestors’ minimum wage demands. ISLP joins these actors in calling on the Cambodian government to address through law the legitimate concerns of the nation’s garment workers regarding their wages and working conditions, and further urges the government to tackle the clear deficiencies in its criminal justice system as highlighted in the trial monitoring report.
Full Trial Monitoring Report: ISLP Report Finds Serious Violations of Fair Trial Rights for Cambodian Garment Workers
Founded in 2000, the International Senior Lawyers Project provides the pro bono services of highly skilled and experienced lawyers to promote human rights, equitable and sustainable economic development, and the rule of law worldwide. ISLP helps build the legal capacity of governments, non-governmental organizations, and other institutions to advance the rights and well-being of their citizens. For more information, visit www.islp.org. Contact: Garth Meintjes, ISLP, 646-798-3288.