Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s public use of derogatory terms when discussing an unnamed woman accused of injuring a security guard after allegedly kicking him prompted rebukes from rights groups in the country on Monday.
At the inauguration of the Cambodia-China friendship bridge in Kandal province, Hun Sen publicly talked about the woman in the incident without mentioning her name, saying she was an extremely bad person who seriously injured the guard and referred to her as nhee, a term for a female animal, and mee srey, a term of contempt.
The use of language used to address animals to refer to a woman is considered harsh and inappropriate in Cambodian society.
“Among the brutal … group was a woman who bounced around and kicked like a wrestler,” he said. “She was not a woman, but a mee srey or nhee kick fighter. It was too extreme, and it’s not a violation of women’s rights, but it’s too bad. The police have to continue working [on the case].”
Details about the incident Hun Sen was referring to were not available.
Thida Khus, executive director of Silaka, a Phnom Penh-based group that promotes the implementation of democracy in Cambodian society for sustainable development, was surprised to hear that the prime minister use derogatory words to describe a woman, and said it indicated that discrimination towards women still exists in Cambodia.
Khus, who is also chairperson of the Cambodian Committee to Promote Women in Politics (CPWP), demanded that Hun Sen respect women rights by not using vulgar words that have a negative impact on other women throughout the country.
Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said that such terms are inappropriate for the country’s leader to use, but she was not surprised because Hun Sen has uttered such harsh and vulgar words to describe women in the past.
Furthermore, his statement was defamatory because the woman has not yet been charged in court, she said.
Ros Sopheap, executive director of the rights group Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC), emphasized that even if the woman was guilty of kicking a security guard or committed some other grave offence, she should not been treated contemptibly in public. She urged Hun Sen to be mindful of women when he speaks.
Hun Sen’s comments about women have drawn criticism from rights groups in the past.
In 2009, opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua, who is also a former women’s affairs minister and prominent women’s rights defender, brought a defamation case against him for comments that included a reference to the unbuttoning of her blouse and another reference of a sexual nature.
But in 2010 she was stripped of her parliamentary immunity and was herself convicted of defamation two years later based on a countersuit by Hun Sen, although no evidence proving damage to reputation or malicious intent was presented in court.
The highly politicized case drew criticism from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) which said it showed “an alarming erosion of both freedom of expression and the independence of the judiciary in Cambodia.” The body also noted that Hun Sen’s use of offensive language towards women had deserved a response from the courts.
Reported by Prach Chev for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.