ITUC-Asia Pacific denounces the sentencing of Chhim Sithar, union leaders in Cambodia

Press Statement
May 2023

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) - Asia Pacific strongly denounces the recent prison sentences imposed on Chhim Sithar, President of the Labor Rights Supported Union (LRSU) of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld, and eight other leaders of the union. These sentences, handed down by the court yesterday for the charge of 'incitement to commit a felony,' are a severe injustice against the LRSU leaders for exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.

The charges against Sithar and her colleagues arose from their defence of workers' rights following the layoff of 1,329 casino workers, including the union leadership, by NagaWorld, the sole legal casino operator in Phnom Penh, in April 2021. The Cambodian authorities have frequently used the baseless charge of "incitement to commit a felony" against union members engaged in strikes as part of a broader crackdown on dissent.

Shoya Yoshida, General Secretary of the ITUC-Asia Pacific, said:

“The sentencing of Chhim Sithar and the LRSU leaders represents a clear and deliberate assault on trade unions and workers who are striving to protect their fundamental rights. The relentless harassment, arbitrary arrests, and imprisonment of LRSU members indicate a concerning pattern of human rights violations by the Cambodian authorities.”

“We call on the Cambodian government to immediately overturn these sentences and unconditionally release Chhim Sithar and her fellow union leaders. We also urge the government to respect and protect the human and trade union rights of workers as part of its obligations under the international human rights laws and labour conventions,” Shoya Yoshida continued.

The workers at NagaWorld casino took action in April 2021 after the company used the COVID-19 pandemic's economic impacts as a pretext to dismiss 1,329 workers, including the entire leadership of the LRSU. Of these, 1,100 were LRSU members.

Throughout the strike, the workers diligently followed all legal procedures and made numerous attempts to engage in good-faith negotiations with the company. Despite their peaceful actions and legitimate demands, they have faced ongoing hostility from the Cambodian authorities.

It can be recalled that Chhim Sithar was arrested at the Phnom Penh airport upon her arrival from the ITUC World Congress held in Melbourne, Australia in November. The authorities alleged that she had violated her bail conditions by traveling abroad, resulting in her imprisonment. However, it is worth noting that Sithar was not made aware of her bail conditions, and she had previously travelled abroad without any issues.

The ITUC-Asia Pacific stands in solidarity with Chhim Sithar, the LRSU and all workers in Cambodia fighting for their rights. “We will continue to support their struggle and advocate for justice, fairness, and respect for workers' rights in the country,” Shoya Yoshida affirmed.

The sentencing of the nine LRSU leaders was met with condemnation by other trade unions, global union federations, and human rights organisations.

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