Phnom Penh authorities have banned a planned march as local NGOs and workers’ unions gear up to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Monday, with a youth group leader saying they would march nonetheless.
The UN Human Rights Office, UN Country Team, the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, the EU and several embassies celebrated the milestone at Olympic Stadium on Saturday.
The local NGOs and unions are set to celebrate the anniversary on Monday, with some 1,000 people expected to take part, as local authorities refused permission for a march from the old Freedom Park to its new site – citing public order concerns – but allowed a gathering at the stadium.
In a letter issued on Saturday, Mean Chanyada, Phnom Penh’s deputy governor, said the NGOs concerned had been told that they could celebrate the anniversary at Freedom Park but marching was prohibited.
“If [you] gather at a location outside the permitted area and continue to march on the street, which would affect security, safety and public order, the representatives will face the law,” Chanyada said.
Sar Mory, the deputy chief of the Cambodian Youth Network (CYN), who is among those requesting to march, said on Sunday that he was concerned that important messages would not reach the public if they were to celebrate the anniversary without marching.
“The reason we want to march is that we want to get our messages heard, and appeal to the government to solve the problems being faced,” Mory said.
He said the banning of the march was not convenient and contradicted an earlier announcement from the Ministry of Interior in November allowing NGOs to conduct their activities without the need to inform authorities three days before an event.
He said that though the Phnom Penh administration had not given permission for the march, they would nonetheless meet and do so as planned.
“[Allowing the march] would have had the government applauded at a time when it is opening up freedom and democracy again,” he said.
Meanwhile, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet hailed the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a “trailblazing” development.
In a press release on Thursday, Bachelet said: “Born out of the devastation of two world wars, the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Holocaust, the Universal Declaration is geared to prevent similar disasters, and the tyranny and violations which caused them.
“It sets out ways to prevent us from continuing to harm each other, and aims to provide us with ‘freedom from fear and want’.”
She said that over the seven decades since its adoption, the Universal Declaration has supported countless beneficial changes in the lives of millions of people across on the globe, permeating some 90 national constitutions and numerous national, regional and international laws and institutions.
She said the right to food and development has to be achieved without discrimination on the basis of race, gender or any other condition.
“You cannot say to your people – I will feed you, but I won’t let you speak or enjoy your religion or culture”.
She added that progress in the field of human rights was under threat.
“We are born ‘free and equal,’ but millions of people on this planet do not stay free and equal. Their dignity is trampled and their rights are violated on a daily basis."
“In many countries, the fundamental recognition that all human beings are equal, and have inherent rights, is under attack. The institutions so painstakingly set up by states to achieve common solutions to common problems are being undermined,” she said.