On Human Rights Day on Monday, Prime Minister Hun Sen expressed pride that since the end of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime in 1979, Cambodian people have had complete rights and freedoms, including being able to vote freely for their leaders.
The occasion was also used by former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Kem Sokha, who is on bail awaiting trial on treason charges, to appeal for an end to the people’s “suffering”.
He also called for freedom of speech and the right to participate in social development.
As in previous years, Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) president Hun Sen had a political message for Human Rights Day.
He celebrated Cambodia’s annual marking of the event, which on Monday saw the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
On his official Facebook page, the prime minister said the event was organised to “promote the freedom of the individual, who was born with rights and equally with dignity”.
He contrasted the complete loss of rights under the Khmer Rouge to the current era under his government.
“In the Khmer Rouge regime [from 1975-79] people did not have rights or freedom, even the right to life, the right to eat, the right to healthcare, freedom of religion, the right to education, the right to choose their representatives, freedom of expression, the right to marriage and the right to work,” he wrote.
“The Khmer Rouge regime took all the rights and freedoms and forced people and children to work severely and, when they fell sick, they died as there were no doctors or medicine. More than three million people were killed during those three years, eight months and 20 days.”
He said that the “people had got back complete rights and freedom” the day the Kingdom was liberated from the Khmer Rouge on January 7, 1979.
“Rights and freedom enable people to live, work, choose religion and vote for their leaders freely, and rights and freedom have helped Cambodia to quickly develop. Please, all of you . . . help maintain peace so Cambodia can develop further,” he urged.
Former opposition leader Sokha, currently on bail at his home under court supervision, also did not miss the chance to mark the occasion.
On his official Facebook page on Monday, Sokha said human rights were the “foundations of human lives”. If each individual did not have basic human rights, he said, peace, development and national unity cannot last forever.
“Without basic human rights, peace, development and national reconciliation are not sustainable. Basic human rights are natural – that is, each human being is born with these rights.
“In a society where there are violations of these rights, no matter in what form, there is bound to be suffering. A society where there is suffering will cause its own people to lose unity.
“Therefore, in order for our society to obtain unity, peace and development, we must stop causing suffering to others, starting from respecting each other’s rights and creating a social environment where people of any affiliation have basic human rights, such as the right to life, the right to housing, and especially freedom of speech, and the right to participate in social development without fear and discrimination.”
While the prime minister and a former opposition leader expressed opinions on human rights in Cambodia on Monday, the UN Human Rights Office, UN Country Team, the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, the EU and several embassies celebrated the event at the weekend.
Also on Monday, unions, members of civil society organisations and government officials celebrated Human Rights Day in different locations across Phnom Penh.