NagaWorld casino union leader arrested, UN experts say strike arrests could be in “breach of human rights law”

Workers protesting in front of Nagacorp’s hotel and casino complex in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
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The head of the Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld (LRSU) Chhim Sithar, who has been at the forefront of a strike at Cambodia's biggest casino was arrested last week on charges of endangering public security. United Nations (UN) rights experts have said that the arrest and detention of casino union leaders and activists in Cambodia "may amount to a breach of human rights law." 

Including Chhim Sithar, a total of twenty-seven people have been arrested. The union leader was taken away by plainclothes police shortly after she stepped out of her car on Tuesday to join the strikers, as reported by Reuters.

Phnom Penh police spokesman San Sok Seyha declined to comment on Chhim Sithar's arrest. Furthermore, in a statement on Saturday, municipal police said a court had declared the strike illegal. 

Since December 18, 2021, hundreds of workers have been protesting against lay-offs at a Phnom Penh gambling hotspot run by a Hong Kong-listed firm. They demand the reinstatement of 365 employees laid off last year during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Union Nations rights experts, which include the special rapporteurs on human rights in Cambodia, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, and the situation of human rights defenders, said nine arrests took place on December 31, with another 17 on Monday and three on Tuesday.

"Many of the arrests of the mostly women strikers were conducted in a violent way and appear to contravene the freedoms of association, assembly, and expression," the independent UN human rights experts said, as reported by the Agence France-Presse.

In recent years, strikes in Cambodia, mostly in the manufacturing sector, have often been accompanied by violence as police try to disperse crowds. However veteran Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been repeatedly accused of suppressing political opposition and whose ruling party holds all seats in parliament, brushes off criticism of the human rights situation, especially when it comes from Western countries.

Born in the southeastern province of Prey Veng, Chhim Sithar has worked at NagaWorld since 2007 as a supervisor and became an active union member in 2009.

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