Geneva,January 8th, 2014. The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), theprincipal global civil society coalition against torture, expresses concernabout the violent repression of protests early January 2014 over garmentfactory wages and the political situation in the country, which led to thedeath of at least five persons and the arrest of 23 persons, including threehuman rights defenders. OMCT calls on the competent authorities to immediatelylaunch an independent, impartial and thorough investigation into these events.
OMCT condemns the violent crackdown and excessive useof force by security forces on various protests throughout Phnom Penh earlyJanuary 2014 by garments workers, monks, victims of forced evictions andsupporters of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP). On January3rd, 2014, at least five individuals participating in a protestdemanding an increase in the minimum wage were killed and many others injured afterthe military police indiscriminately and disproportionately used lethal forceagainst the protesters. OMCT is also concerned about the violent dispersal ofanother demonstration on January 4th, 2014 in central Phnom Penh.
OMCT recalls that under internationalstandards, lethal force by law enforcement officials can only be used whenstrictly necessary to protect lives and in accordance with the principle ofproportionality.
The authorities should give clear instructions to securityforces to refrain from using force against protestors and to act in accordancewith human rights standards, notably with the United Nations Basic Principleson the Use of Force and Firearms, which stipulates that security forces shall “applynonviolent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms,” and that“whenever the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, law enforcementofficials shall: (a) Exercise restraint in such use and act in proportion tothe seriousness of the offence and the legitimate objective to be achieved; (b)Minimize damage and injury, and respect and preserve human life”.
OMCT alsourges the competent authorities to launch a prompt, independent, impartial andthorough investigation into these events, the result of which must be made public,in order to bring those responsible before a competent, independent andimpartial tribunal.
OMCT is also concerned about the arrest and judicialharassment of 23 persons, including three human rights defenders, Vorn Pao, President of the IndependentDemocratic of Informal Economic Association (IDEA), which works for thepromotion of worker’s rights, land and housing rights, Theng Soveon from the Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community, and Chan Putisak, a famous Boeng Kak Lakeactivist.
Vorn Pao, Then Soveon and Chan Putisak were arrestedalong with seven other individuals on January 2nd, 2014 during aprotest on National Road 4 in Phnom Penh demanding for a greater increase ofthe minimum wage. 13 others individuals were arrested on January 3rd,2014. They were all charged under Article 411 “Intentionally causing damagewith aggravating circumstances” and Article 218 “Acts of violence withaggravating circumstances” of the Penal Code 2009 and face up to five year’simprisonment and fines from $1’000 - $ 2’500. According to latest informationreceived, all 23 individuals are detained at the Correctional Center 3 (CC3) inKampong Cham province. Their whereabouts had been unclear for several days.
OMCT urges the competent authorities to guaranteetheir physical and psychological integrity at all times and to ensure that theyhave access to their families, lawyers and medical professionals. OMCT isconcerned about the medical condition of several of these detainees, who havesustained injuries during their arrest. OMCT has been informed that Vorn Pao needsto take medicine daily since he underwent a kidney operation five months ago.
OMCT also calls on the authorities to immediately andunconditionally release the above-mentioned 23 individuals who seemed to bedetained solely for peacefully protesting.
Furthermore, on January 6th, 2014, fiveland rights activists from Boeng KakLake, Tep Vanny, Yorn Bopha, Bo Chhorvy, Phan Chhunrethand Song Sreiy Leap, were temporarilyarrested in Phnom Penh after starting a march asking for the release of the tendemonstrators arrested on January 2nd, 2014. The were released thesame day only after they agreed to sign a letter stating that they willtemporarily not engage in further protests, conditions that OMCT condemns.
Their arrest followed a ban on all demonstrations andmarches in Phom Penh by the Ministry of Interior until “public order andsecurity is restored”. No specific end date to the date was indicated. OMCT urges the Government of Cambodia to fully respectthe rights to peaceful assembly and expression and to stop ongoing judicialharassment against human rights defenders and activists.
Finally, OMCT calls on all sides to restrain fromengaging in any acts of violence, which seriously risk escalating the politicaltensions and social unrest in Cambodia following the disputed election in 2013.
OMCT, Tel. +41 22 809 49 39