Amnesty International has today called on the government to break the “cycle of human rights violations and impunity” that it says has plagued the Kingdom in recent years.
In its report Taking to the Streets, the human rights NGO explores incidents of violence and injustice that have flown in the face of international and domestic laws over the “tumultuous period” of the past two years, during which people were injured, killed and even disappeared during protests.
The report “documents how not a single official or member of the security forces has been held to account for the often brutal repression of protests in Cambodia, including around the disputed 2013 elections”.
Taking to the Streets highlights what it calls a “pattern of violations: the imposition of arbitrary restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly; the unnecessary and excessive use of force by security forces policing assemblies; a culture of impunity surrounding human rights violations committed in the context of assemblies; and the use of the judiciary to harass those who organize and participate in assemblies.”
Such violations, it notes, infringe on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, which is not only enshrined in major human rights treaties to which Cambodia is party, but in the Kingdom’s own constitution.
The report calls for “thorough and transparent investigations, and if there is sufficient evidence, prosecution of those responsible for using excessive force against protesters”, adding that “victims of these serious human rights violations must be provided with effective remedies, including compensation”.
Opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua, who herself currently faces charges over a violent protest she is accused of leading last year, said yesterday that reforming the court system is key to addressing the violations listed in the report.
“The stability of the nation depends on the court system,” she said, explaining that judges should be independent from the government.
But Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan dismissed the suggestion.
“I have no idea what ‘independence’ means,” he said.
Siphan added that the government has the right, at times, to “intervene” with the courts, while simultaneously arguing that ordering legal action over any violent crackdowns was beyond the government’s remit.
“The government cannot do everything by themselves. We don’t want a dictatorship on that one,” he said.
But for those at the receiving end of the injustice, action cannot come soon enough.
One such person mentioned in the report is 16-year-old Khem Sophath, who was last seen with a bloody chest wound in January 2014, at a garment strike that turned deadly when security forces opened fire.
His father, Khem Soeun, spoke yesterday of the despair Sophath’s disappearance has inflicted on the family. But, he said, he isn’t hopeful that justice will ever be found.
“So far it’s quiet and hopeless”.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MOM KUNTHEAR