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Cambodia: Education International calls for the immediate release of arrested trade union leader

Leading trade unionist and president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions Rong Chhun was arrested on 31 July after voicing criticism of the government. Education International has protested the arrest in a letter to the Prime Minister of Cambodia, calling for the immediate release of Mr Chhun and for human and labour rights to be guaranteed in the country.

Rong Chhun is one of the most outspoken unionists in Cambodia and the former president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association (CITA) - a member organisation of Education International. Mr Chhun was arrested at his home on 31 July and is currently detained at Prey Sor prison awaiting trial.

Rong Chhun’s arrest took place following his recent trade union activities and criticism of government policies in the context of the economic downturn brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior to his arrest, Rong Chhun was also requesting the release of four CITA members - Peat Mab, Sun Thun, Chhum Chan and Keo Thay - who are detained for making comments on public health issues during school closures.

On 1 July, Rong Chhun wrote to the Prime Minister’s Cabinet urging the government to respond proactively to the allegations of the European Union and to make improvements on human rights and democracy before the Everything But Arms trade preference is due to be withdrawn on 12 August.

In the recent labour dispute over the closure of Violet Apparel, Rong Chhun picketed with hundreds of terminated workers and Yang Sophorn, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, supporting workers’ claims to their legal entitlements. On 21 July, after a field visit to the Vietnamese border, Rong Chhun spoke to the media about farmers losing their livelihoods and their land.

Education International and its members are deeply worried about the alarming trend of repression in Cambodia. In a letter to the Prime Minister of Cambodia, Education International General Secretary David Edwards called for the immediate release of Mr Chhun and all trade unionists detained for exercising their rights. He further stated that “trade unions in Cambodia have legitimate concerns regarding the impact of the government’s policies. The freedom to speak up and represent the interests of working people, as well as the right not to be penalised for the opinions expressed are indispensable to the exercise of freedom of association. The Cambodian government must protect and uphold these rights under ILO Convention No. 87 and international human rights treaties.”

Education International will continue to closely monitor the human rights situation in Cambodia and will stand by its affiliates.