Groups of protesters and individuals alike have been left asking whether it was International Human Rights Day in name only yesterday after celebrations were closed down, an NGO worker was briefly detained and security forces were accused of stomping on a protester’s stomach.
More than 2,000 marched across the capital from Olympic Stadium to Freedom Park, where thousands more gathered to mark 64 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations.
As part of the event, Cambodian civil society put an emphasis on both business and human rights, asking the government to develop policies that would protect its citizens in the face of international investment and development.
Chhit Sam Ath, executive director of NGO Forum, said the government needed to adhere to global human rights standards, especially when it came to approving business deals that resulted in land evictions.
“The violation of human rights mirrors a bad sign for business, and such action not only affects the entire community but also makes investors lose their confidence [in Cambodia],” Sam Ath said.
Businesses investing in Cambodia also needed to take responsibility for the effects their projects had on the Kingdom, argued monitors.
Labour rights, including those of migrant workers, and gender and racial equality were also high on the priority list of those who attended yesterday’s event at Freedom Park. However, to those taking part in activities elsewhere in town, the right to of assembly was a far more immediate concern.
Members of five communities marched from Boeung Kak to the Council of Ministers to ask the government to put a halt to development that results in evictions, but were blocked by police and security guards, resulting in clashes that included children.
Housing Rights Task Force official Neup Ly was detained after taking a photo of municipal police chief Choun Sovan.
Ly was taken to a nearby station, briefly questioned and released when he identified himself as an NGO worker.
“I saw Mr Choun Sovan talking with [NGO worker] Ee Sarom, so I tried to take a photo of them, but I did not have time,” he said.
During the same incident, a woman from Boeung Kak collapsed onto the pavement.
“I saw a security guard stomping on her stomach as she lay on the ground,” a man, who did not want to be named, said.
In Sen Sok district, about 50 security guards dismantled a tent residents had erected to mark the day, Thai Nari, 43, a former Boeung Kak lake resident, told the Post.
“I’m shocked and frustrated,” she said, adding that the guards had taken down the tent 20 minutes before celebrations were due to begin. “People are afraid of this action, and I think it is a violation of human rights and democracy.”
Nari said she had informed commune and district authorities about her planned celebration, but Phnom Penh Municipal Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said she had not sought the necessary permission from City Hall.
NGOs and organisations including Adhoc, the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, the Cambodia Labour Confederation and the Housing Rights Taskforce issued a statement calling on the Cambodian government to take more action to prevent rights violations.
Its recommendations include strengthening the independence of the court system, developing a coherent land and housing policy, and better respecting the rights of workers, especially when it came to short-term contracts.
In a separate statement, Adhoc said the official theme of yesterday’s event, Inclusion and Right to Participate in Public Life, was particularly pertinent to Cambodia.
“Indeed, 2012 has witnessed violations of Cambodian citizens’ civil and political rights and a deterioration of the climate in which civil society can operate,” the statement read.
“While recognising the need for economic development, we call on business enterprises to practise due diligence when conducting their activities and identify, prevent and mitigate negative impacts on human rights.”