City Hall has kicked the opposition party’s request to hold a 7,000-person event at Freedom Park on Sunday up to the Interior Ministry, with a representative saying the municipality only has the authority to approve gatherings of 200 people or fewer.
Phnom Penh city spokesman Meas Chanyada said the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s plans for a gathering to mark the 25th anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords needed approval from the ministry, unless they held it – as City Hall prefers – on private property.
“We want the CNRP to [hold the event] at the party’s headquarters or a private location, as this request is beyond the scope of what Phnom Penh Municipal Hall can decide,” Chanyada said. “So we have requested a decision from the Ministry of Interior.”
Speaking yesterday, CNRP lawmaker Ho Vann reiterated that the party had no plans for a political rally or march, saying it simply wanted to celebrate the “spirit” of the 1991 agreement, which aimed to end decades of conflict by establishing a democratic framework for the Kingdom.
“Our aim is to [hold the event] peacefully… the Ministry of Interior does not have any reason to deny our request.”
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak was unreachable yesterday for comment. Vann, meanwhile, would not say whether the party would abide by a negative ruling from the ministry, only that the party would discuss it.
As the anniversary approaches, several foreign dignitaries have descended on Cambodia to discuss and reflect upon the accords and Cambodia’s progress over the past 25 years.
At a conference yesterday at Phnom Penh’s Sunway Hotel to mark the anniversary, attendees were read a scathing critique penned by former UN Special Rapporteur Yash Ghai, who resigned bitterly from the post in 2008 after repeated clashes with Prime Minister Hun Sen.
In the statement, Ghai, while acknowledging Cambodia’s economic improvements, slammed the government, saying the state of human rights and democracy were now “worse than in the period immediately after the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge”.
“The situation of human rights has deteriorated, with many human rights defenders, community leaders and opposition politicians persecuted,” Ghai, a Kenyan academic, wrote, criticising the “brutality” of the Hun Sen regime.
A joint statement by 40 regional human rights NGOs submitted to the conference also criticised what it labelled a crackdown on political opponents and civil society.
“The past year and a half has been marked by an interesting disregard for the democratic principles enshrined in the Paris Peace Accords,” it reads, before calling on the international community to renew efforts to stop further deterioration as elections approach.
“That means ending attacks on critical voices, allowing free and fair elections, and working to secure a peaceful and prosperous future for all Cambodians,” it says.
CNRP senior lawmaker Son Chhay, who also addressed the conference, attacked what he called the government’s abuse of the rule of law to harass the opposition party.
Responding yesterday, Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan said the party “welcomed” criticism and recommendations, but held that opposition figures were detained because they had broken the law.
“It is not politically motivated,” he said.