Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Groups insist on equal rights

Groups insist on equal rights

Members of LGBT advocacy group Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK) at a Pride event in Phnom Penh
Members of LGBT advocacy group Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK) at a Pride event in Phnom Penh in May. Scott Howes

Groups insist on equal rights

Seila, a tall, heavily made-up woman with orange-blonde hair, said she was in a park in Siem Reap last year when policemen approached her, put a gun to her head and told her if she ran, they would shoot.

Her only crime, she says, is being transgender, which in Cambodia, advocates contend, is more than enough.

Legally, the Kingdom’s Constitution protects the equal rights of its citizens regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. But at an International Human Rights Day discussion yesterday, NGOs and activists say increasing anecdotal evidence shows that incidents of bigotry, harassment and abuse are commonplace.

“It happens every day, we are discriminated against and stigmatised by authorities,” said Seila, a transgender outreach worker.

“They want men who have sex with men to not meet in public places,” she said. “Sometimes they want to have sex [with the transgender sex workers] and not pay them.”

In interviews with the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual and queer) individuals allege being targeted and exploited by police, subject to verbal harassment, beatings and gang rape.

“When they see us walking in the street they laugh at us, and call us bad words … and fight us. And they look at us as if we are strange people,” said Sou Sotheavy, 69, the transgender director of NGO Cambodian Network Men Women Development.

Reliable statistics and documentation of police discrimination or gender-based brutality are scarce, especially since, fearing further abuse and stigma, LGBTQ individuals rarely report the instances.

“We know it’s happening, but we do not have exact data,” said Nuon Sidara, director of CCHR’s sexual orientation and gender-identity program.

The government denies any systemic LGBTQ discrimination takes place.

“They seem to be saying that police are as bad as the Pol Pot regime.… I appeal to them to speak with proof,” said national police spokesman Kirth Chantharith.

Advocates say the government has sometimes endorsed the violence, and in 2007, Premier Hun Sen publicly disowned his adopted daughter for coming out.

But yesterday, participants said ending the harassment starts at the policy level.

“We don’t need special rights, we just need our human rights guaranteed,” said Sidara.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEN DAVID

MOST VIEWED

  • ‘Kingdom lacks up to 400MW in available electricity’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has called on the general public, hoteliers and businesspeople with generators to use them as back-up as the Electricity Authority of Cambodia cannot generate enough electricity to meet needs due to low water levels in power station reservoirs. On Saturday evening

  • Sor Chandeth defends his criticism of Hun Sen

    Former senator Sor Chandeth has defended his choice of words when criticising Hun Sen, saying he was merely speaking metaphorically to attack the Prime Minister’s political life, not his actual person, as the latter seeks damages. [img] Chandeth spoke to The Post on Thursday,

  • South Korea’s Moon arrives in Kingdom for state visit

    South Korean president Moon Jae-in and his wife arrived in Phnom Penh on Thursday at the start of a three-day state visit to Cambodia to strengthen ties and further the friendship between the two countries. After arriving at the Phnom Penh International Airport in the

  • Youths band together to clean ‘filthy’ Boeung Trabek canal

    Inspired by their affection for the environment, a desire to have a clean and beautiful city, and wanting to send a message to people to stop littering, a group of some two dozen volunteer youths have taken to picking up trash day and night from