While Prime Minister Hun Sen presided over a celebration of International Women’s Day at the Peace Palace today, Phnom Penh City Hall rejected a request by unions and NGOs to do the same.
City Hall issued a letter today to the Cambodian Women’s Movement Organisation, a federation of domestic labour unions, refusing its request to host a public event with other NGOs to celebrate the day’s 100th anniversary near Wat Botum, said Phork Hoeurng, a liaison officer for CWMO.
Instead, an expected 1,800 people from a range of civil society organisations will gather on private property on the outskirts of town in Meanchey district.
CWMO sought backing from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs before submitting its application to City Hall, which had rejected a similar request last year, said Phork Hoeurng.
“The Ministry of Women’s Affairs agreed with us to attend the event,” she said.
A copy of the letter seeking support from the ministry that was returned to CWMO and obtained today by The Post, appears to corroborate Phork Hoeurng’s claim.
A note written by hand and dated January 12 reads: “the Minister has agreed to participate.”
Ing Kantha Phavi, Minister of Women’s Affairs, said today she had only agreed to look into the request once it had been approved by the city.
“I didn’t support initially. I said that if the governor accepts them, there is no problem, we’ll look at what is the intention,” Ing Kantha Phavi said.
“If they want to celebrate March 8, of course we support the celebration of March 8. But it seems that they did not get the green light,” she said.
CWMO received a call from a city official last week saying the request, which it submitted last month, had been rejected, Phork Hoeurng said.
The group subsequently learned that Ing Kantha Phavi could no longer participate.
The letter denying the request, signed by Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema and dated March 3, gave no reason for the rejection, according to a copy obtained by The Post.
Kep Chuktema declined to comment today.
Phork Hoeurng said today’s event will highlight issues important to women such as maternity leave and short-term contracts, as well as domestic violence and rape, human trafficking and land disputes.
The government has denied a number of requests to hold public rallies since the 2009 Law on Demonstrations that have sought to address much more sensitive issues, such as the Boeung Kak lake evictions or the 2004 assassination of union leader Chea Vichea.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said the rejection of the CWMO permit was a “clear violation of the right to freedom of assembly” and a “sad commentary on the state of women’s rights in Cambodia”.
“The government seems to be imposing a de facto ban on all public assemblies regardless of the issue or the grievances,” he said in Phnom Penh today.