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Defiance works: Amnesty

120524_03

Workers demolish houses on the edge of Boeung Kak lake in Phnom Penh in 2010. More than 4,000 families have been affected by the Shukaku Inc development. Photograph: Will Baxter/Phnom Penh Post

In the face of increasing economic land concessions and ongoing restrictions on expression, disaffected Cambodians were increasingly taking to the streets with success, Amnesty International representatives said yesterday at the launch of their annual report.

Amnesty reported that Cambodians continued to face challenges to their human rights through restriction of freedom of association and expression and land disputes that had been exacerbated by “an increase in the number of economic land concessions granted to business interests by the government”.

Amnesty also identified several cases of human-rights defenders who had been physically attacked, arrested, detained or convicted by the Kingdom’s authorities for their peaceful activities.

Although the report highlighted the persecution, intimidation and harassment human rights protesters often face, in-country researcher Rupert Abbott said protests in Cambodia could bring about change.

“Indeed, protests in Cambodia are on the rise, and this is undoubtedly partly because protesters know protests can bring results that other courses of action – such as relying on the corrupt justice system to resolve disputes – cannot,” Abbott said by email.

He cited examples of peaceful protests that have influenced change, such as the Boeung Kak lake protests that helped push the government to give back 12 hectares, and civil-society pressure against the proposed Law on Associations and NGOs.

“There are also numerous examples of garment workers protesting peacefully and gaining concessions from factory owners as a result,” Abbott said.

The 2012 report, themed “No longer business as usual for tyranny and injustice”, estimates 420,000 people in areas covering approximately half the country have been affected by forced evictions since 2003.

Freedom of expression, association and assembly have also been jeopardised by authorities who have disrupted peaceful, legal gatherings and places, it says.

Press and Quick Reaction Unit spokesman Ek Tha said he had no comment on the report.

“I cannot tell you the answer without seeking approval from my boss,” Ek Tha said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bridget Di Certo at bridget.dicerto@phnompenhpost.com

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