Marking the sixth annual International Transgender Day of Visibility yesterday, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) called on the government to protect transgender people and end discrimination.
While Cambodia has no laws that directly condemn the LGBT community, the government also lacks any formal legislation able to protect the historically vulnerable group. In yesterday’s statement, CCHR cited the murder of 1,509 transgender people worldwide between 2008 and 2014, according to a project conducted by Transgender Europe, and noted that the community is particularly at-risk to suicide.
“Many transgender people struggle to find meaningful employment, either as a result of discrimination in the workplace or because they haven’t had the same educational or vocational training opportunities as non-transgendered people,” said CCHR project coordinator Nuon Sidara, noting that many transgender people consequently live in poverty or seek illegal work.
However, government spokesman Phay Siphan argued that even without explicit legal protection, transgender people don’t face discrimination.
“We don’t have a special law yet but we respect them the same as a regular person – same employment, same education, same everything,” he said, adding that he had not seen CCHR’s statement.
However, basic equality under the law can silence issues of violence and prejudice, rather than address them, advocates like CCHR maintain, and past efforts to secure new laws to end hate crimes and workplace discrimination have failed.
In the coming months, CCHR plans to meet with six government ministries to discuss LGBT issues.
“In Cambodia, the government has always been fairly silent on transgender rights,” said Nuon. “We hope that today can start a new conversation.”