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Right to protest under threat in Cambodia; authorities responded with excessive use of force in 2013

UPDATE: On the morning of 4 January 2014, the Phnom Penh Municipal Hall issued a statement banning further protests, CCHR reports.

CCHR President Ou Virak commented:

"After months of political deadlock since July's National Assembly elections, the RGC has sent a clear message today: the time for free speech is over. The events that have taken place over the past several days are a major step backwards for Cambodia in terms of democracy and human rights. With the RGC effectively silencing all of those who disagree with them, we call on the international community to put the necessary pressure on the RGC to immediately stop this cycle of violence and restore respect for human rights in Cambodia."

A protester is detained during clashes between garment workers and security forces in Phnom Penh, 3 January 2014
A protester is detained during clashes between garment workers and security forces in Phnom Penh, 3 January 2014

REUTERS/Samrang Pring

The Cambodian Center for Human Rights ("CCHR") releases today - 3 January 2014 - a Briefing Note on the excessive use of force by security forces in 2013 in the Kingdom of Cambodia ("Cambodia"). The Briefing Note finds that excessive use of force has been an all too common occurrence in 2013: at least 25 demonstrations were violently repressed, with authorities using electroshock weapons, guns, tear-gas, water cannons, and batons, to beat and disperse protesters. Shootings by security forces at demonstrations led to the death of two people and left one person paralyzed and at least 16 others injured. Countless numbers of demonstrators have been beaten, with three women suffering miscarriages.

These findings are sadly illustrated by the violence that occurred on 2 January 2014 during a series of protests organized to demand a higher increase in the minimum wage for garment factory workers. Outside of the Yak Jin Factory off of National Road 4, over a dozen people - including monks, protesters from the garment factories and journalists - were beaten by security forces, which included members of the military's 911 paratrooper unit and who were armed with batons, steel pipes and AK-47 assault rifles. At least 15 people were arrested, including ten garment workers who are currently still in custody. Yesterday's events were also marred by increasing tension and frustration with the Royal Government of Cambodia's (the "RGC") response to the demonstrators' demands, resulting in some demonstrators resorting to using violence - including throwing rocks - against the security forces at some of the protest locations.

Perpetuating violence such as seen yesterday is the impunity that surrounds it. While demonstrators often find themselves arrested, implicated law enforcement agents are never brought to justice. CCHR calls on the RGC to ensure that all reports of excessive use of force and firearms by security forces, including yesterday's incidents, are promptly, thoroughly and effectively investigated by an independent body. With continuous reports of increasing violent confrontations today between security forces and demonstrators on Veng Sreng road that have led to the use of lethal force and already several wounded people, CCHR also urgently calls on everyone - security forces and all demonstrators - to restrain from engaging in any acts of violence, which seriously risk escalating the current situation in Cambodia.

CCHR President Ou Virak comments:

"While many of the political demonstrations which have taken place over the last few months have been met with restraint from the security forces, there is an increasingly clear link between the excessive use of force by security forces and the protection of the big business of Cambodia. Of the 25 cases where we noted excessive use of force, 21 were related to strikes by garment workers or protests over land. To end this cycle of violence, the RGC must ensure that military personnel are not deployed to demonstrations and that police officers are properly trained and do not carry heavy handed weapons. As protests continue today, I call on all demonstrators and security forces to exercise restraint and to remain peaceful at all times."

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