Thousands rally in Cambodia for Human Rights Day
December 11, 2013, 12:30 am TWN
PHNOM PENH--Thousands of Cambodian opposition supporters and activists, including Buddhist monks, took to the streets Tuesday to mark Human Rights Day and call for improvements in the kingdom's rights record.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy led a crowd of some 6,000 supporters — many waving Cambodian flags and holding banners that read "Long Live Democracy" — through Phnom Penh.
Chanting the party's slogan of "Change! Change!" and "Step Down!" — a reference to opposition demands that Prime Minister Hun Sen resign — the crowd gathered at a park in the city centre.
"Now, the state of human rights in our country is going down. We must struggle for the full and proper respect of human rights," Rainsy told the crowd.
Cambodians have lost their rights due to "corruption and dictatorship", the opposition leader said, repeating his claim that Hun Sen won July's national election due to widespread voting fraud.
He raised the recent death of South Africa's anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, saying: "We will walk the same path as Nelson Mandela and we will be successful like him."
Several hundred land rights activists and some Buddhist monks marched to parliament.
Thousands of garment workers and government officials also attended separate rallies to mark the United Nations-backed Human Rights Day.
Hundreds of riot police were deployed outside Hun Sen's house and at other key locations.
Activists say land conflicts are Cambodia's most pressing human rights issue.
There have also been a series of recent protests by garment workers over poor conditions and low pay in factories, some of which have ended in violent crackdowns by security forces.
Last month a woman was shot dead and several injured after riot police used live ammunition and tear gas to break up a garment worker demonstration.
The government has faced mounting criticism from rights groups for alleged crackdowns on dissidents and protesters, in cases that are often linked to high-profile land disputes.
U.S. President Barack Obama told Hun Sen last year that his government's human rights violations were "an impediment" to better relations.
The largely peaceful conduct of July's polls showed there had been "improvement in respect for civil liberties" in Cambodia, U.S. Ambassador William Todd said in a Tuesday statement.
"Cambodia still faces challenges, however, in such areas as land disputes and evictions, corruption, and trafficking in persons," he said.
The Cambodian opposition party, which is boycotting parliament, is set to hold another mass protest Sunday to contest Hun Sen's election victory.