More than 80 high-ranking police officers from across Cambodia attended a workshop yesterday in Phnom Penh about the appropriate use of force in policing and citizens’ rights upon arrest.
Jointly organised by the UN human rights office and the Ministry of Interior, the training session, which covered basic principles for use of violence by police, including use of live ammunition, was held almost eight months after at least five people were shot dead by authorities during massive garment worker protests in early January.
“It is important to be mindful that police officers are citizens in uniform – they perform their duties on behalf of society and are accountable to the population,” UN rights representative Wan-Hea Lee said in her opening address.
“Where force is used in situations where nonviolent means are available to achieve the same goal or where greater levels of force than necessary are resorted to, those responsible must be accountable to the law, regardless of their official position.”
While Lee said that any deaths caused by police should be investigated, she did not refer to any recent incidents in Cambodia.
Last September, a bystander was shot dead when security forces and motorists clashed at a roadblock at the Kbal Thnal skybridge, and in November, a food vendor was killed and at least five others were shot by police during a worker riot in Stung Meanchey district. No results of any official investigation related to those events or the events of January have been publicly released and no one has been held accountable for the deaths.
Neither Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak nor National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith could be reached for comment about pending investigations yesterday.
Kang Sokhan, the deputy national police commissioner, told the workshop that the government’s aim was to “provide justice” to Cambodians, which included law enforcement officials understanding the appropriate use of force and taking responsibility for their actions.
“Our participation today is evidence that shows that our law enforcement officials’ capacity is being strengthened and improved to have a better and deeper understanding about rights upon arrest, as well as use of force,” he said.
The UN said it had distributed “Arrest Rights Cards” in numerous provinces and urged police officers to display poster-size versions at their stations to combat a lack of awareness about these rights, and thus, how widely they are respected.