A U.N. rights envoy suggested Thursday that Cambodia lift a ban on public gatherings in the capital imposed amid a violent crackdown on demonstrators a month ago.
Maina Kiai, the U.N.’s global Special Rapporteur for freedom of peaceful assembly and association, made the suggestion to Foreign Minister Hor Namhong in Phnom Penh while on a three-day visit to Cambodia.
“I raised concern about the blanket ban that was extended in January, expressing the strong view that under international law, blanket bans are not recommended,” Kiai told reporters after the meeting.
“[Hor Namhong] assured me it’s a temporary ban and will be lifted at some point,” he said.
Kiai’s trip comes less than a month after police gunshots during a crackdown on striking garment workers left five dead in what rights groups have decried as the worst state violence against civilians in the country in years.
Later, the authorities instituted a ban on public gatherings, violently dispersing opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP)-led protests that had been held alongside strikes by garment workers.
Call for official visit
Kiai’s trip, which also included a meeting with opposition CNRP deputy chief Kem Sokha on Thursday, is an unofficial academic visit made on the invitation of civil society groups, rather than an official reporting visit organized by the government.
Kiai said he had urged the foreign minister to invite him for an official visit.
“I think it’s in the interests of the government to invite me officially so that I can come and hear the government’s side and be able to take a considered and reasonable view of what’s going on to address the freedom of assembly and association.”
Officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs provided no information about Kiai’s meeting with Hor Namhong.
Urging international pressure
Kem Sokha told RFA’s Khmer Service that during their meeting, the two had discussed the government’s crackdown on CNRP supporters and that he had urged the envoy to appeal to the international community for pressure on Cambodia to respect democratic freedoms.
Kiai met with the Coalition of Cambodian Workers’ Democratic Union earlier in the week and is expected to meet with land rights activists from Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak Lake community on Friday, the Cambodia Daily reported.
The envoy will submit a report on global developments on freedom of assembly and association to the U.N. in June and said he may include events in Cambodia in the document.
Rights groups have raised concerns about excessive forces used by government authorities in Cambodia to suppress a series of demonstrations held since national elections in July.
CNRP-led demonstrations calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Hun Sen drew tens of thousands of participants in recent months before the ban was imposed.
Last week, police used electric batons and smoke bombs to break up a protest by supporters of independent Beehive Radio angered over the government’s refusal to grant the station licenses to expand its broadcast range and establish a TV station, leaving at least seven people injured.
Also last week, at least 10 people were injured in Phnom Penh when security forces clashed with protesting activists, trade union leaders, and laborers demanding higher wages and the release of 23 people arrested in the January crackdown on garment workers’ strikes.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.