The United Nations expert on the situation of human rights in Cambodia urged all sides to immediately exercise utmost calm and restraint, and reiterated his call for an end to the official ban on demonstrations.
“Yesterday, Freedom Park – a symbol of democracy in Phnom Penh – once again became a witness to violence and an antithesis to freedom,” UN Special Rapporteur Surya Subedi told reporters in Geneva today.
According to the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR), what began as a peaceful protests led by members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), quickly escalated into violent clashes yesterday, leaving up to 40 people injured, mostly private security guards. As it stands now, five CNRP Members of Parliament-elect and one CNRP activist have been arrested.
“I call on the Government to guarantee the constitutional right to peaceful assembly for all Cambodians with immediate effect by lifting the existing restrictions on assembly, and to ensure the fair treatment of those arrested in strict accordance with the human rights standards relations to the administration of justice,” Mr. Subedi stressed.
All parties must exercise non-violent means of expression and uphold peace and order in the exercise of freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. Recalling January’s “tragic incidents” that resulted in a demonstration ban in Phnom Penh, he urged the Cambodian Government to facilitate peaceful demonstration and to exercise utmost restraint towards protestors.
“Yesterday’s events have shown that the shrinking democratic space in Cambodia since January is having negative effects on the enjoyment of human rights for all,” Mr. Subedi said.
During his last mission to Cambodia, Mr. Subedi has also expressed concern to the Government regarding the role of district security guards in policing public demonstrations, saying they were private individuals who appeared to operate outside any clear accountability framework.
“Tolerance is crucial for the future of democracy in Cambodia,” he said.
While barricading Freedom Park has no justification in law, he also urged those seeking to exercise their right to peaceful assembly to remain peaceful and respectful of others’ human rights.
Appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Cambodia in March 2009, Mr. Surya P. Subedi serves in his individual capacity and works independently of any government or organisation.