NGOs to Defy Government Over Rights Day March

Several civil society organizations plan to defy a ban issued by Phnom Penh City Hall and march publicly on International Human Rights Day, event organizers said on Thursday.

In a Wednesday letter signed by deputy municipal governor Khuong Sreng, the city denied a request from five groups to march 2.5 km from Freedom Park to Wat Botum Park on December 10 and commemorate what is also a national holiday in Cambodia.

Activists face off with authorities near the Justice Ministry in 2015 after police blocked a group of demonstrators from marching through the city to mark International Human Rights Day. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Activists face off with authorities near the Justice Ministry in 2015 after police blocked a group of demonstrators from marching through the city to mark International Human Rights Day. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“You can celebrate at a private place or at your headquarters,” the letter reads.

Ieng Pich, who signed the request as provisional head of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, which represents 22 NGOs, said City Hall’s ban would not affect the organization’s plans.

“It is our right and freedom stipulated in the Constitution,” he said.

Mr. Pich’s defiance was echoed by Mi Nac, advocacy manager at the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, an association of NGOs, who said he expected 60 NGOs and up to 5,000 people to participate on the day, though not all would be marching.

“What we have planned is not a messy march…. We can gather a small group of people that we can control and won’t affect traffic.”

Mr. Nac also rejected the city’s recommendation to hold the event in a private place, saying that would violate the spirit of the holiday.

“We can’t hold Human Rights Day at a private place,” he said. “People won’t know about it and it would be meaningless.”

Met Measpheakdey, a municipal spokesman, said the march request was denied due to concerns about “security, public order and traffic jams.” He added that the government would take a “wait and see” approach regarding the deployment of police should the NGOs proceed.

A similar ban was enacted last year, and hundreds of people marched through the streets of the capital in defiance while police in full riot gear looked on. Those marches ended without violence.

A banned march last month for World Habitat Day, however, was stormed by city security guards and led to the beating of an observer from rights group Licadho.

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