Cambodia police break up 8,000 strong
Water cannons have been used to bring the angry
protest by garment workers to an end. Thousands of people went on strike after
they had been promised an 18 euro pay rise and only received half.
Police, under orders to bring an almost week-long strike by
Cambodian garment workers to an end, used water cannon to break up their
protests on Monday.
"Workers were water hosed as they walked to factories,"
Nouth Bopinnaroath, a local human rights worker, told Reuters.
The police action - which took place at a special economic zone in
Bavet, close to the Vietnamese border - followed a walk-out by workers at two
factories that have stopped work since December 16. As many as 8,000 people
have been involved in the protests and strike.
Workers are angry that a new minimum wage of $140, which was
agreed in October, falls far short of the sum that unions had demanded. Several
protesters said companies had delivered just 50 percent of a promised pay rise.
Ministers have warned that the ongoing action threatens the
country's multi-billion dollar garment industry and the governor of Bavet, who
led the crackdown, insisted the situation had to be brought under control after
days of snowballing protests.
"We have tolerated them for a long time already. Our forces
are only protecting the factory, its investors and the safety of the
workers," he said.
The Garment Manufacturers Association sent a letter to Prime
Minister Hun Sen last week urging immediate action to restore order as strikes
"severely affect investors' sentiment and their long-term investment
One union leader, Kem Chamroeun from the Union of Movement of
Workers, said the strikes had been wildcat and not authorized by the workers'
collective. But he predicted that further protests would break out.
Amid a competitive garment manufacturing industry in Asia, the
Cambodian government says it has attempted to meet workers' demands while
keeping the sector competitive.
Garment production provides 700,000 jobs, mostly in rural areas,
through orders from international brands like Gap, H&M, Adidas and Marks
Cambodia’s Dictator Issues Arrest Warrant for Opposition Leader
Newsweek | 6 December 2015
Prime Minister Hun Sen, pictured at a restaurant in central Phnom Penh October
rare televised speech to address escalating political tension in the country.
On November 13, Cambodia’s dictatorial
prime minister Hun
Sen ousted opposition leader Sam Rainsy, stripping him of his seat in parliament and
calling for his arrest. These latest actions against Rainsy are representative
of Cambodia’s long muddle through a sort of unfree democracy.
Cambodia’s latest actions should remind
the international community of the commitments it made in the Paris Peace Accords, which ended the 1978-1991 war in
Cambodia. The agreement did not only formalize the end of the war begun by
Vietnam’s invasion and establish the basis for elections, but parties to the
accords also committed to hold Cambodia to liberal ideals.
The U.S. must uphold commitments made
during the Paris Peace Accord and ensure that it is taking sufficient action to
ensure political freedom for the people of Cambodia.
removal was prompted by comments he made suggesting that repressive
regimes in Southeast Asia—especially dictatorships like Cambodia, where Hun Sen
has retained power for almost 30 years—must feel threatened by the success of
recent elections in Burma.
Rainsy’s arrest warrant was based on 2011 convictions,
which were never enforced, for alleged defamation against Deputy Prime Minister
and Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong. Now Hun Sen is calling for their enforcement.
Rainsy remains abroad visiting with the
Cambodian diaspora in Japan and Korea and has been urged by the international
community not to immediately return to Cambodia.
Tensions have escalated over the past
several months between Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the
opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP). Just last month, vice
president of the national assembly and opposition leader Kem Sokha was removed from power. This came on the heels of violence
against other opposition parliamentarians who were beaten up by ruling party
members calling for Kem Sokha’s removal.
Democracy in Cambodia is more a turn of
phrase than a reality. The July 2013 elections were replete with error and
voter fraud. Despite this, the 2013 elections were closer to an opposition
victory than in a great many years.
For months, the CNRP boycotted
parliament, alleging vote-rigging on the part of the CPP and calling for a
second, more credible investigation into election results.
While the two parties did eventually
reach an agreement in July 2014, and CNRP parliamentarians took their seats in
parliament, the agreement was not ideal. Originally the CNRP had requested
reform to the election oversight body, the National Election Committee (NEC);
early elections in February 2016; and a television station for the CNRP.
They were also looking for the release
of political prisoners and a clean investigation into 2013 election results.
The deal really only resulted in a promise of reform to the NEC. While the two
parties undertook NEC
and National Election Law reform, recent violence undermines progress.
These latest actions against Rainsy and
Sokha, as well as the violence against CNRP parliamentarians, represent yet
another step away from the inclusivity required to maintain a democratic
framework in Cambodia. The
U.S. Department of State has called upon the Cambodian government to
immediately reinstate Rainsy and revoke the warrant for his arrest.
There are other steps that the
international community can and should take. In 1991, the Paris Peace Accords, which were signed in the wake of the
Khmer Rouge, obligated signatories to monitor and assist Cambodia in its
adherence to democratic principles.
Due to the significant decline in
democratic freedoms in Cambodia (failure to hold free and fair 2013 elections,
continued detention of political prisoners, violence against CNRP protesters
post-2013 elections and the targeting of high-level CNRP officials including
Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha), the Paris Peace Accords signatories should form a
contact group to evaluate the state of human rights and political and economic
freedom in Cambodia, as well as provide assistance to ensure that Cambodia
remains on a path to democracy.
The international community should
closely watch Cambodia to see whether democracy continues to disintegrate. It
is in the best interest of Southeast Asia and the international community that
Cambodia adhere to democratic principles, especially as other historically
repressive nations like Burma are turning from their wayward ways toward