As a Khmer citizen I am disgusted and disappointed to learn about the
rounding up and detention of beggars and disabled people by the Phnom Penh police
during the Water Festival. It is ridiculous to learn that they were instructed not
The arrest and detention of these helpless people is not only morally but also legally
Beggars and disabled people are the lowest class in the Cambodian society. Nevertheless,
they are human beings. They have feelings and hearts, families and friends. They
want to enjoy their lives as much as other people. They should be treated with kindness
The Water Festival is one of Cambodia's major holidays and many Cambodians travel
a long way from provinces to enjoy themselves and meet with relatives and friends.
Beggars and disabled people are among them.
Of course they may beg for food and money during this holiday. So what? Ultimately,
it is not their fault but rather reflects the inability of the government to create
jobs or provide welfare for them.
It is a great tragedy to see these vulnerable people treated with insult and humiliation
by City Hall. It shows that City Hall is incapable of finding a dignified and moral
way to deal with these innocent people.
It is not illegal to beg for a living. Personally, I feel deeply hurt to see these
socially marginalized people treated worse than criminals.
Under the criminal law, when arresting someone, there must be some suspicion that
a crime has or is being committed and an explanation to the person being arrested
as to the reasons for his or her arrest.
This did not happen to the beggars and disabled people when the police rounded them
up during the past Water Festival.
For example, the Cambodia Daily reported on November 17, 2003, that without asking
any questions, the police grabbed a 15-year-old boy from his wheelchair while he
was waiting for his mother to return from buying water.
The boy tried to tell the police he was waiting for his mother. Instead of listening
to him, the police just threw him in the car and drove away.
The City Hall's order for the arrest and detention of these innocent people was not
only legally baseless, but also a breach of the Cambodian Constitution.
Article 35 expressively permits Khmer citizens to actively participate in social
and cultural life of the nation.
Article 32 states "Every Khmer citizen shall have the right to life, personal
freedom and security."
The act of rounding up, detaining, and frightening the beggars and disabled people,
who live daily in fear of not finding food and shelter, clearly violates their rights
of freedom and security.
Rounding these people up each time a foreign VIP visits Cambodia or on other special
occasions is not a solution to the problem. Rather, it is shameful behavior by the
Cambodians-though not their rulers-are some of the poorest people in the world.
Solving the problems of the homeless and disabled cannot be done through arbitrarily
arresting or detaining them, but rather by addressing the root causes of the problem,
namely rampant corruption, unemployment, and the system of patronage and nepotism.
The solution is to produce jobs for these people and provide them with education
and vocational training.
Depriving the poor and disabled of their freedom and security will not alleviate
- Sum Sok Ry - Washington, DC