By Lauren Crothers
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia
Hundreds of people marked International Human Rights Day in Cambodia on Thursday, petitioning the government to resolve land disputes, overhaul the judiciary and stop policing demonstrations in a violent manner.
IHRD this year comes after a particularly tense time in the capital, which saw two opposition politicians beaten outside parliament and their party’s leader, Sam Rainsy, embark on another round of self-imposed exile to avoid a defamation prison sentence.
The petition, which was issued by five activists from different rights groups and communities, was submitted on behalf of a list of people from sex workers to unionists and the unemployed.
It was handed in to the Ministry of Justice after a number of marching groups converged.
It called for resolution to the country’s many land conflicts — usually between poorer communities and powerful companies or individuals — reform of the judicial system, a raise in the minimum wage and commitment to respect workers’ rights.
It also highlighted the need for respect for the freedoms of association, assembly and expression, and “an end to State-sponsored violence, particularly in the context of demonstrations.”
Between 2013 and last year, seven people were shot dead by state forces during three different protests.
Access to the ministry was prevented by a phalanx of police officers Thursday, but a crowd nonetheless gathered at the barrier to listen to speeches and dance around in the sweltering sun.
Among those in attendance were monks bearing Buddhist flags and signs that called for “justice” in Cambodia.
Nearby, at Wat Botum park, several hundred military police officers patrolled around.
Monitors from human rights group Licadho also observed gatherings held in other provinces around the country.
In a statement released Thursday, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights lamented what it said was a “deterioration of an already dire human rights situation in the country.”
It cited the passage of “a number of repressive laws that violate international human rights standards,” including the NGO and telecommunications laws.
“These laws serve to significantly restrict fundamental freedoms, such as freedoms of expression, association and assembly,” the organization said, adding that “human rights violations take place in Cambodia against a backdrop of complete impunity.”
Justice Ministry spokesperson Chin Malin could not be reached.