In a speech to more than 15,000 workers in Phnom Penh’s Por Sen Chey district yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen chided garment workers for blocking the road during protests and called their actions “illegal”.
“You have a right to express your unhappiness with this or that thing,” Hun Sen said. “But you should not create obstacles for people.”
He also called on garment workers to take their concerns to the authorities, and warned them against “believing the incitement of a few people”.
The premier appeared to be referring to a demonstration on Veng Sreng Boulevard last Friday, where roughly 500 garment workers from Meng Da Footwear factory took to the streets to demand better wages.
Cambodian Center for Human Rights Executive Director Chak Sopheap noted that traffic rules cannot be used to arbitrarily justify restricting the right to freedom of assembly, according to UN standards for the management of demonstrations.
Cambodia’s own Law on Peaceful Demonstrations notes that a protest can only be banned in the event it “may cause danger or may seriously jeopardise security, safety and public order”.
“Too often in Cambodia, traffic flow is cited as a justification for prohibiting assemblies outright, which is rarely if ever acceptable under international human rights law,” Sopheap said.
Mouen Tola, executive director of Central, said that garment workers often take to the streets as a last resort after legal channels have failed them.
“We should look at the root cause and how the legal framework can be simplified to make the people confident that in a few days they’re going to have a resolution.”