Cambodia: UN rights office decries use of excessive force against protesters

7 January 2014 – The United Nations human rights office today expressed deep concern about what it said is disproportionate use of force by law enforcement officials responding to protesters in Cambodia, and urged authorities and security forces to exercise utmost restraint.

We urge the Cambodian authorities to launch a prompt and thorough investigation and to ensure full accountability of members of security forces found to have used disproportionate and excessive force, spokesperson for the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR), Rupert Colville, told journalists in Geneva.

He stressed that policing of demonstrations must comply at all times with international human rights obligations and international standards in maintaining public order, as specified in the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

Five people were killed on 3 January when security forces opened fire on striking garment workers in Phnom Penh. An additional 20 people were injured by gunfire and beatings.

According to OHCHR, the striking garment workers pressing for higher wages have added fuel to political demonstrations organized since July by the opposition party to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Hun Sen and a re-run of the election.

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Surya P. Subedi, has repeatedly called for calm. The incident on 3 January was the third time since the disputed July 2013 general election that the authorities have shot into a crowd and caused fatalities.

Briefing journalists today, Mr. Colville said that while OHCHR notes the challenges authorities face in maintaining public order, the UN human rights officials join Mr. Subedi in calling on all protesters to exercise maximum restraint.

Acts of sporadic violence during public gatherings must not be used as an excuse to deprive others of their right to freedom of peaceful assembly, a right that must be protected and promoted by the authorities, Mr. Colville said.

In addition, he noted that 23 people, including at least one minor, were detained following the clashes, and their whereabouts remain unknown.

We urge the Cambodian authorities to allow all those held incommunicado to have access to their families, legal representation and, if needed, medical care, the spokesperson said. If not charged with a legally defined offence, they should be released immediately.