Human rights activists have condemned the Cambodian government over its deadly crackdown on striking garment workers a week ago today.
Hundreds of protesters have rallied in front of Cambodian embassies from Bangkok to Berlin as part of a global week of action condemning the violence that left five dead and at least 39 injured.
On Friday, January 3, following a largely peaceful two-week strike over wages, military police moved on a protest at the Canadia Industrial Park in Phnom Penh, firing live ammunition, teargas and grenades.
The Asia Pacific forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), coordinating demonstrations in 11 cities, said that the display of solidarity for the workers around the world shows the brutality of the Cambodian government towards poor workers is unacceptable.
“We want to say that the Cambodian government should listen to their own people protesting, but since they won’t, it’s up to the rest of the world to stand up,” APWLD’s regional coordinator Kate Lappin said.
In Bangkok, more than 100 protestors marched to the Cambodian embassy around noon, carrying banners such as “protest is a basic human right.”
Pranom Somwong, who led the march, challenged the Cambodian government to produce evidence that the striking workers attacked police, which had been blamed for triggering the crackdown.
“You cannot just say ‘our position is everyone who committed the violence should be prosecuted’ if violence by the military isn’t being addressed,” she said.
In Seoul, protestors held a press conference in front of the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs this morning, demanding the government come clean about its involvement in the crackdown.
Eun-ji Kang of the Korean House for International Solidarity (KHIS) says Korean companies should take full responsibility for the loss of life.
“We believe the lives of the people are much higher and more valuable than the enterprises in Cambodia,” she said.
The Korean government has faced a stream of criticism over its role in the crackdown after its embassy in Phnom Penh admitted – then denied – it had met with the Cambodian military ahead of the crackdown.
In a post on the its Facebook page, which has been deleted, the embassy took credit for convincing the Cambodian government to “understand the seriousness of this situation and act swiftly.”
Since then the embassy in Phnom Penh has denied allegations it urged the use of force on protestors, saying such claims were “ill-intentioned” and based on false information.
Korea is one of the largest investors in Cambodia, with about 60 South Korean-owned factories in the country – six in the Canadia Industrial Park where the protests occurred.
Most of the estimated 350,000 strikers have returned to work, and the workers’ push for a minimum wage rise from $80 to $160 a month remains unfulfilled.
With some of the lowest wages in Southeast Asia, Cambodian workers were promised a $160 minimum wage by the opposition party Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) coalition if the party won election. Despite losing the poll, MP Mu Sochu says the party is still determined to push for the reform.
Ms Sochua slammed the Hun Sen government’s actions, saying the deployment of military on civilian populations is unconstitutional and can only be issued by decree of the King during a state of emergency.
“The fact is [Prime Minister] Hun Sen knows about this, and this is not the first time that more-than-excessive force as used to crackdown on civilians,” she said. “This is a culture of impunity that has for too long existed in Cambodia.”
Concerns have also been raised for 23 young men arrested during the crackdown, who are being held in the notorious and remote CC3 prison, located near the Vietnam border.
They could wait up to 18 months for trial, and if convicted face 5 years’ imprisonment as well as fines up to $2,500 – or two and a half years’ worth of the current wages – according to the the Cambodian rights group LICADHO.
Further demonstrations are set to take place in Berlin, Manila and Istanbul in the coming days.