What’s behind this so-called “Black Monday” campaign? It began last month when four officers of the human rights group ADHOC and an election official were arrested by the police for allegedly bribing a young woman to remain silent in relation to a sex scandal case involving Kem Sokha, the country’s second most prominent opposition leader. ADHOC insists the group was merely extending legal aid to the woman as part of its advocacy work.
To press for the release of these persons, various groups launched a campaign urging the public to wear a black t-shirt every Monday as a sign of protest against the repressive policies of the state.
Cambodia’s ruling party, which has been in power for three decades already, is claiming that what exists in the country is a so-called pluralist democracy. But the continuing “Black Monday” campaign is a potent reminder that human rights, justice, and democracy are still under attack in the country.
Cambodia Rejects Europe’s Human Rights Criticisms
The European Union resolution cited the “escalation of politically motivated charges and judicial harassment of human rights defenders and activists” in Cambodia. Aside from filing several criminal charges against some Members of the Parliament, the Cambodian government also detained four NGO members for allegedly bribing a witness in a sexual scandal case involving an opposition leader.
This legal offensive is seen by many as a systematic crackdown of the opposition by the ruling party, which has been in power in the past three decades.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation immediately issued a statement describing the EU resolution as a document “based on so many false accounts.”
In the past month, Cambodia received a lot of flak for its human rights record and its perceived pro-China policy at the expense of ASEAN unity. While Cambodia is right to assert that its sovereignty as an independent nation must be respected, it also has the obligation to take note of the legitimate concerns raised by various institutions about some of its policies. At the minimum, it has to address these issues and assure the international community that the government is still committed to protect human rights, democracy, and rule of law.