A trial opens today for 23 Cambodian trade union leaders and workers in Phnom Penh Municipal Court for participating in rallies in January calling on the government to increase the minimum wage for Cambodia’s ready-made garment workers. The majority of those arrested have been detained for months in a remote prison known as CC3.
IDH, a global network of human rights organizations, called for the Cambodian government to drop all charges. “Cambodia’s judiciary must end this baseless prosecution of garment workers and human rights defenders who have been severely beaten, arbitrarily arrested and detained for several months for peacefully demonstrating to demand an adequate minimum wage.”
Throughout their detention in what legal rights observers describe as exceptionally harsh conditions, the men have been refused medical care and denied release on bail, even in cases of medical necessity. Legal rights observers also say the 23 men have been denied due process and, until last week, were unsure whether they would even be allowed to attend their own trial. If convicted, they face up to up to five years’ imprisonment, as well as fines ranging between $1,000 and $2,500.
Since a violent crackdown by security forces in the streets of Phnom Penh in early January left five workers dead and more than 40 injured, trade union and worker rights have been under attack in Cambodia. Hundreds of garment workers have been dismissed, trade union leaders have faced lawsuits and garment industry representatives have called on the government to denounce the International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions that Cambodia has ratified.
Meanwhile, the government has failed to conduct an independent investigation into the violent crackdown, and the injured workers and the families of those killed have received no compensation. Negotiations about increasing the minimum wage remain stalled. Workers are demanding the government increase the monthly minimum wage for garment and footwear workers from $80 to $160.
“Free the 23” has become a rallying cry for international worker and human rights communities, which have repeatedly called for the release of all detainees.
The Solidarity Center is joining with representatives of international worker and human rights groups and foreign embassies in Cambodia in observing the trial to remind the Cambodian government of its duty to ensure due process and the rule of law.