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In wake of more protests, call for resolution of long-standing land conflicts in Cambodia

On 29 April 2013, Boeng Kak lake residents and other communities embroiled in land disputes gathered in front of the Cambodian People's Party headquarters in Phnom Penh to appeal for help from the prime minister
On 29 April 2013, Boeng Kak lake residents and other communities embroiled in land disputes gathered in front of the Cambodian People's Party headquarters in Phnom Penh to appeal for help from the prime minister

REUTERS/Samrang Pring

In the wake of the disproportionate force used by law enforcement against housing rights activists on 29 May 2013 in front of Phnom Penh City Hall, during one of many anti-eviction demonstrations that have turned violent recently, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights ("CCHR") calls on the competent authorities of Phnom Penh municipality to resolve the various land conflicts which have been pending for years in the capital.

On the morning of 29 May 2013 a group of approximately 100 demonstrators from Boeng Kak, Borei Keila and Thmor Kol communities, gathered in front of the City Hall in order to follow up on the recent commitment by new Governor of Phnom Penh, Pa Socheatvong, to provide a definitive solution by the end of May 2013 to the land disputes facing their communities. Following the authorities' refusal to meet with five representatives of the communities, the demonstrators blocked Monivong Boulevard, one of the city's main highways. After several unsuccessful warnings from Phnom Penh police chief, Choun Sovann, who stated that he would "take action" against the protesters if they did not disperse, water canons of three fire trucks were used to blast the group, leaving three of them unconscious and around 20 others injured.

Article 3 of the United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, which applies to the Cambodian police force, stipulates that "law enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty". Considering the fact that the demonstration was peaceful, the level of force used against these protesters was disproportionate and therefore not in accordance with the law. In demonstrating against forced eviction, these community members are exercising their legal rights to freedom of expression and assembly, as guaranteed under Cambodian and International law.

CCHR President Ou Virak comments:

"What happened on 29 May is just one example of what has now become a regular occurrence. The persistence of these communities in protesting and placing themselves in the line of fire just goes to show that they have nowhere else to turn and no other avenues to explore in seeking justice. City Hall made a commitment to resolve these land conflicts, which have uprooted so many families and destroyed so many livelihoods, and they should do so, once and for all. It is the duty of City Hall to preserve public order on the streets of Phnom Penh. This cannot be done through beating down protesters but must come from long term solutions to land rights conflicts in the city."

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