by Kennedy Graham
New Zealanders need to be aware of the current brutal crack-down by government security forces on unarmed peaceful protests in Cambodia, last week. We have about 7,000 citizens of Khmer descent in our country now, and have contributed some $1 million to the Khmer Rouge trials. It is morally incumbent on us all to be vigilant about what happens there.
Government violence out of Phnom Penh has resulted in at least known four deaths so far. Kiwis should call on the John Key Government to express our condemnation of the Cambodian government in the strongest terms. We should consider whether diplomatic sanctions should be applied.
The background is that civil protests have grown over recent months, resulting from popular rejection of the results of the July 2013 elections. These elections were marred by significant irregularities including:
- apparently inflated electoral rolls (http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/giving-more-100),
- a crude and ineffective method of preventing voters voting multiple times; (http://www.voacambodia.com/content/election-ink-poor-quality-monitors-say-cambodia/1711102.html); and
- post-election pay-outs from the ruling party (http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/post-election-payout).
Recent demonstrations have involved tens of thousands of people peacefully gathering in the capital’s Freedom Park, a venue specifically established by the Government to honour freedom of speech….
This coincided with a strike by garment factory workers (a major export industry in Cambodia) seeking an increase in the minimum wage to $160 per month.
These peaceful protests were met with an increasingly repressive and violent response from the Cambodian police and government security forces. Several union leaders and Buddhist monks have been arrested.
On 3 January, protesters were attacked by police and security forces, heavily-armed including with AK47s, together with men of uncertain identity in plain clothes wielding metre-long steel pipes. Live ammunition was fired directly into the crowds, resulting in the four deaths mentioned above with many more injured. Further violence was employed to break up protests the following day, with unarmed people and monks among those attacked.
Foreign Minister McCully should follow the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s lead, and express to the Cambodian Government New Zealand’s outrage at these events. NGOs have called on the Government to demand that Hun Sen’s Government:
- Stop the systematic abuse of human rights.
- Ensure the rights to peaceful assembly free from the fear of indiscriminate violence by government security forces.
- Hold an independent inquiry run by a credible international organisation into the use of excessive force by government security forces.
- Immediately release all political prisoners.
- Run a free and fair election overseen by independent international observers.
The Green Party would support this call.