About 3,000 Cambodians, including land activists, garment workers, and monks marched from the provinces to the National Assembly, or parliament, on International Human Rights Day on Wednesday to demand respect for human rights, the release of jailed land activists, and an end to forced land evictions.
Vorn Pao, president of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economic Association (IDEA), said that although some marchers encountered obstacles when they tried to march into Phnom Penh, it was worth the effort because the rally would reinforce the need for human rights to be protected in the country.
"We are in dire need for the respect of human rights,” he said, speaking at the rally. “In 2014, many people protested, and workers were subject to serious crackdowns. We are celebrating Dec. 10 to promote human rights.”
Marchers from the provinces on their way to the capital encountered some roadblocks by soldiers and police officers acting on orders from higher-ups, according to reports.
Besides demanding respect for human rights, workers also petitioned the assembly to demand higher wages and called for the labor courts to resolve labor disputes.
In November, the monthly minimum wage for the country’s hundreds of thousands of garment workers was raised to U.S. $128 from U.S. $100, but fell short of union demands by U.S. $12.
Sam Rainsy, leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Kem Sokha, the party’s vice president, and other opposition lawmakers also participated in the rally.
Kem Sokha called on the Cambodian people to fight for human rights and freedom.
“I don’t think freedom is given freely,” he said. “We must struggle for it. We must make sacrifices. These struggles will give us hope that one day we will receive full human rights and democracy to enable our people to have a bright future.”
Pa Socheatvong, governor of Phnom Penh and a member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, held a separate gathering to mark International Human Rights Day.
“As for Cambodia under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen, people fully understand about human rights and dignity,” he said. “We have paid close attention to human rights through many actions.”
In a statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Cambodia, ambassador William Todd said there were both some improvements and setbacks in the country’s human rights situation.
“I encourage all Cambodians to take this day to rededicate themselves to promoting basic human rights and freedoms,” he said.
“In particular, I urge the government to engage with the opposition and civil society to address the issues of impunity, nepotism, and corruption, which together have a corrosive effect on society, weakening economic growth and stability and undercutting progress made on human rights.
“It is incumbent on all parties to set aside petty differences and to work together for the benefit of the people of Cambodia.”
The fundamentals of governance and human rights have not changed in Cambodia despite the resolution of a political crisis in the country, a U.N. envoy said recently, calling for independent monitoring institutions.
Surya P. Subedi, the U.N.’s special envoy on Cambodian human rights, made the proposal while addressing the world body's Human Rights Council in Geneva in September ahead of the end of his six-year term in March 2015.
“The situation in Cambodia today is very different from the one that existed when I assumed the Special Rapporteur mandate five years ago,” he said. “Having said that, what Cambodia needs now is to adopt a strong human rights infrastructure that can support far-reaching and meaningful reform.”
Hun Sen's ruling party and the CNRP forged a political compromise in July, a year after flawed general elections.
The prime minister agreed to implement key electoral and other reforms and elected CNRP lawmakers decided to end a nearly year-long boycott of parliament.
During his term, Subedi has written four reports on judicial, parliamentary, electoral, and land reform to help the Cambodian government transform state institutions that protect and promote human rights.
His last report to the council focused on the independence of monitoring institutions, which he believes to be lacking in the country.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.