Thousands Flock to Capital for Human Rights Day

More than a thousand people poured onto the streets of Phnom Penh on Wednesday calling for judicial reforms, an end to state-sanctioned violence and the elimination of corruption to mark the 66th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

About 600 monks and activists from across the country began congregating outside the National Assembly at about 7:30 a.m. after completing the final stretch of a five-day nationwide march from six provinces.

Monks holding balloons were among the thousands of people who came out to celebrate Human Rights Day in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. The government, opposition CNRP and civil society groups all held separate events to mark the 66th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (John Vink)
Monks holding balloons were among the thousands of people who came out to celebrate Human Rights Day in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. The government, opposition CNRP and civil society groups all held separate events to mark the 66th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (John Vink)

The marchers—who completed their journey after staying in various pagodas in the city Tuesday night —were joined Wednesday by about 300 workers, union representatives, students and land rights activists.

Meanwhile, hundreds of workers and activists gathered in Freedom Park for an event organized by civil society groups that included speeches and traditional Khmer dance performances.

Vorn Pao, a labor leader who spent months in prison earlier this year over charges for his allegedly violent role in January’s garment strikes, called for an end to impunity as he addressed the crowd outside the National Assembly.

“In addition, please stop using the judiciary to bring suffering to the Cambodian people, political activists and human rights activists,” he said.

Activist monk Luon Sovath criticized the authorities’ handling of the marches leading up to Human Rights Day, which saw authorities blocking some national roads and a number of pagodas refusing the groups entry.

“The authorities hate human rights defenders and human rights activities but we know we are doing right, in Buddhism [and under] national and international law,” he said.

CPP lawmakers Lork Kheng and Chhun Sarim and CNRP lawmaker Chea Pouch accepted a petition calling for the Law on Demonstrations to be implemented, the independence of the judicial system at all levels and an end to forced evictions, according to rights group Licadho. Union representatives handed the lawmakers a separate petition calling for better labor conditions.

CNRP leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha both gave speeches and promised to take the petitions to the National Assembly.

“We have acknowledged your requests. All of your requests will be taken to the National Assembly, which is not ruled by one political party,” said Mr. Rainsy.

The CNRP also hosted its own event in the evening, attended by about 700 people, at a park along the Tonle Sap river, across the street from the offices of the Cambodian Development Council. Mr. Rainsy said the venue was chosen because City Hall denied the party’s request to gather at Freedom Park.

A government-organized event on Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich island earlier in the day was presided over by Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong, who praised Prime Minister Hun Sen’s human rights record to a crowd of some 3,000 people.

“The Cambodian government, under the wise and intelligent Prime Minister Hun Sen, understands clearly about the value of rights, freedoms and dignity of the people and pays attention to all aspects of human rights,” Mr. Socheatvong said.

“Cambodia has become a truly peaceful, safe, plural democracy which respects human rights.”

(Additional reporting by George Wright)

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