Cambodian authorities routinely infringe on the people’s right to assembly, especially in protests about land disputes, according to a fact sheet released this month by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR).
The Phnom Penh-based nonprofit NGO cited Cambodia’s constitution and international human rights law in the factsheet, saying both guarantee the right to peaceful assembly, but that in practice, these rights are not guaranteed.
“This is particularly true in relation to land disputes, where authorities often preclude people from protesting, use disproportionate force towards the protesters, or subsequently punish them for having protested,” said the CCHR in the fact sheet.
After defining peaceful assembly and identifying specific Cambodian and international laws pertaining to it, the fact sheet detailed how the right was infringed between April 2018 and March 2019.
“CCHR’s Fundamental Freedoms Monitoring Project (“FFMP”) recorded 99 incidents which involved violations of the freedom of peaceful assembly, indicating a systematic misapplication of the Law on Peaceful Demonstration,” said the CCHR in the fact sheet.
“Notably, 30% of all land disputes related incidents recorded between April 2018 and March 2019 resulted in violations of fundamental freedoms, including through the use of force and judicial harassment,” the fact sheet stated.
During the period 19 individuals were arrested, 15 summoned, 21 detained, 45 questioned, and five convicted, in relation to land disputes.
CCHR also cited two incidents of live ammunition being fired at protesters by authorities during the period as evidence of their disproportionate use of force.
The fact sheet made four recommendations to the Cambodian government:
First, the government should reduce the number of disputes by engaging in meaningful consultation with those living in communities that would be affected by development.
The NGO also recommended that any use of force aimed at controlling assemblies adhere to laws and urged the government to immediately begin investigation into excessive use of force in past assemblies, with a clear plan to bring perpetrators of excessive force to justice.
Lastly, the CCHR recommended that Cambodia “cease all restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly, including threats, intimidations, judicial harassment and other forms of harassment.”
Speaking to RFA, a Cambodian official disagreed with the claims made by the CCHR.
“The government guarantees peaceful assembly and demonstrations including [during] land protests and other protests,” said Ministry of Justice Spokesman Chin Malin, adding that uses of force during demonstrations were in response to violence perpetrated by the protesters.
“[If] any protests lead to violence and cross the red line, abusing other individuals’ rights, then we reserve the right to take all measures against these violent actions,” he said.
The CCHR’s Business and Human Rights Project Coordinatior told RFA that the government often uses similar excuses to prevent free assembly and peaceful marching.
“When villagers gather, march, and deliver petitions to [Prime Minister] Hun Sen’s office, the authorities try to stop [them], saying that they must protect the public and social order,” said Vann Sopath.
He added that the government is failing to implement the sections of Cambodia’s constitution that guarantee freedom of expression and assembly.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.