HRW urges Japanese government to pressure Cambodia to end union repression

The NGO Human Right Watch (HRW) on Monday urged the Japanese government to pressure Cambodian authorities to stop using Japanese-funded public buses to forcibly remove striking workers from picket lines in Nom Pen, the capital.

As the organization explained in a statement, Cambodian authorities reportedly arrested dozens of striking union activists and forcibly removed them from the strike site on Japanese-funded public buses, transporting them to the outskirts of the capital or to COVID-19 quarantine sites.

“Japan should demand that Cambodian authorities stop misusing buses provided with Japanese taxpayers’ money or face being complicit in the Cambodian government’s abuses against striking workers,” said HRW’s Asia desk officer, Teppei Kasai.

“The Japanese government should promote workers’ rights abroad and not allow foreign aid to be used to undermine them,” she added.

The statement comes after Cambodia’s NagaWorld Casino laid off 1,329 workers in April 2021, at which point former employees have been protesting in front of the casino in downtown Nom Pen.

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In this regard, on September 27, 2016, the Japanese government signed a grant program of nearly 1.4 billion yen (nearly €10 million) to donate 80 buses to Cambodia.

For this reason, HRW has asked Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to disclose whether the Japanese Executive had expressed concerns or taken any action regarding the misuse of the buses by the Cambodian Government.

Separately, the NGO has detailed that the mass firing of NagaWorld Casino in April 2021 included Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld (LRSU) president Chhim Sithar and other union leaders and activists. The union has since demanded the reinstatement of the dismissed workers, particularly the union leaders.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Cambodia has ratified, provides for the right to strike, HRW has recalled.

“The right to strike is a right that workers and their organizations, including trade unions and federations, are ‘entitled to enjoy,'” it has highlighted in the brief.

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The Cambodian government’s use of vehicles to help forcibly break up peaceful union protests undermines workers’ rights to strike, freedom of expression, freedom of association and collective bargaining, the organization has insisted.

“The Japanese government’s commitment to honor its development assistance charter will raise serious doubts if immediate and effective measures are not taken to end the misuse of buses in Cambodia,” Kasai has said.

“Tokyo should send a clear message to the Cambodian government that respect for human rights is fundamental to the bilateral relationship,” he has added.

The government of Cambodia should send a clear message to the Cambodian government that any restriction of this right “should not be excessive” and that the “legitimate exercise of the right to strike should not result in harmful sanctions of any kind, including acts of anti-union discrimination.

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