Ministry of Interior secretary of state Bun Hun said on Sunday that the Svay Rieng provincial authorities have allowed Hek Samnanh villagers in Romduol district’s Meunchey commune to celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD), after their request had previously been denied by commune authorities.

After being informed of the situation, Hun intervened to the provincial authorities who then permitted the villagers to celebrate the day as they normally do, he said.

“Now the local authorities have allowed them to do it. It is not prohibited anymore. I already asked the authorities. They said they initially denied their request because they were afraid the celebration would affect traffic."

“I told them to allow the villagers to do it and help to safeguard them. [There is] no ban anymore, but [I told them to] make sure there will be no untoward incidents,” Hun said.

Men Davy, one of five representatives of some 200 Hek Samnanh villagers – who claim to be victims of land grabbing – said she is happy to hear the authorities have now allowed the celebration to go ahead.

She said they wrote a letter to the commune authorities asking to celebrate International Women’s Day, but the authorities refused and demanded they send an official letter instead.

“I didn’t know what to change in the letter because we are ordinary people who are not under any institution .  . . so we didn’t know how to write it and what reference number should be put on the letter,” she said.

Knowledge is power

Davy said the villagers will raise several issues at the event on Friday so women can be aware of their rights under the constitution.

Their knowledge of women’s issues remains limited, she said, so it is difficult for them to find solutions, especially regarding sexual harassment, violence and land grabbing.

Romduol district governor Sokha Ream said local authorities did not ban the celebration because it is an international event, but they asked the villagers to follow standard procedures, put a reference number on the letter and obtain permission from the Ministry of Interior.

After five village representatives submitted the letter last Friday, Meunchey commune chief May Roeun replied by letter the same day saying the authorities were not allowing them to celebrate International Women’s Day.

“The commune council does not permit you to celebrate [IWD] because there is no specific law granting you responsibility as representatives of the villagers who claim they are affected by land issues in Meunchey commune,” the letter read.

The Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community president Theng Savoeun said the issuing of official procedures, letters and orders from leaders at the Interior Ministry remains limited, so local authorities continue to use outdated administrative procedures, which are contrary to the law.

He said that if the authorities use the old system, it will affect local people’s rights when they want to gather to exchange ideas and experiences or announce anything.

“I call on the Ministry of Interior to intervene and advise local authorities to clearly understand the directives and stop accusing people of being engaged with this or that group,” Savoeun said.

The ministry released a letter on November 27, last year, informing provincial and municipal governors to coordinate the activities of NGOs and local communities and not require them to give three days prior notice before their activities start.