The United States has expressed deep concern over the recent arrest of a prominent labor union leader in Cambodia.
Chhim Sithar, a union leader at the NagaWorld Casino in Phnom Penh, was arrested on November 26 on her return from the International Trade Union Confederation World Conference in Melbourne, Australia. In a statement issued shortly after her arrest, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said, “We urge Cambodian authorities to release Chhim Sithar and end prosecutions against trade unionists exercising their rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly, drop charges against them and move to constructively resolve their disputes.”
Chhim Sithar was first arrested in January 2022 after leading a large demonstration of union members calling for the reinstatement of hundreds of NagaWorld workers, alleging that workers had been dismissed from their positions improperly. Authorities used violent tactics to suppress peaceful protestors, including reportedly shoving and hitting demonstrators during protests on June 27 and August 11.
Authorities have also been accused of using public health laws to break up protests by forcing striking workers onto buses and transporting them to quarantine facilities to be held overnight. The Cambodian government labelled the strike “illegal” and charged Chhim Sithar with “incitement to commit a felony by disturbing the social order.” The State Department’s most recent report on human rights in Cambodia describes that charge as “a vague standard commonly used to suppress and punish peaceful political speech and dissent.”
Chhim Sithar was released on bail in March. The Cambodian government claims she was re-arrested for violating the terms of her bail by traveling abroad. She and her attorneys deny that the court informed Sithar of the restrictions.
“We continue to call on the Cambodian government,” said Spokesperson Price, “to uphold its obligations and commitments and mediate a resolution between NagaWorld and the labor union representing terminated employees.”
People in Cambodia, like people everywhere, must be permitted to exercise their human rights without fear of government retaliation and repression.