The Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) on Tuesday outlined four recommendations for the authorities when dealing with peaceful assemblies concerning land disputes.
In a five-page document, CCHR said its Fundamental Freedom Monitoring Project had recorded 99 incidents that involved violations of the freedom of peaceful assembly. This, it said, indicated a systematic misapplication of the Law on Peaceful Demonstration.
“Notably, 30 per cent of all land dispute-related incidents recorded between April 2018 and March this year resulted in violations of fundamental freedoms, including through the use of force and judicial harassment,” the document said.
In the same period, it noted that 19 individuals had been arrested, 15 summoned to court, 21 detained, 45 questioned and five convicted in relation to land disputes.
The most common breaches, it said, included peaceful assemblies being prohibited, demonstrators removed from peaceful gatherings by security personnel, legal action being threatened, beatings and arrests.
Legal action had also been taken, such as in accusing protesters of insulting public officials, the destruction of public property and incitement.
CCHR raised the example of a protest in Pir Thnu commune in Kratie province’s Snuol district in which two villagers were arrested and detained after having protested against the demarcation of an economic land concession for the Memot Rubber Plantation Company.
Another example was an incident in January in Preah Sinanouk
province in which security forces used live ammunition against protesters, leaving a construction worker seriously injured.
Good examples of dealing with land disputes were also raised, such as how Prime Minister Hun Sen’s sons Hun Manith and Hun Many settled a case in Kampong Speu in 2016.
CCHR said the government had set out the acceleration of land dispute resolution at the UN Human Rights Council’s Third Universal Periodic Review.
It recommended the government engage in meaningful consultation with affected communities and respond swiftly to protests and requests for meetings before land disputes arose.
“Ensure that the use of force at assemblies is exemplary and strictly complies with the principles of legality, necessity, proportionality and accountability, with precautions taken.
“Comprehensive and periodic training to security forces charged with policing assemblies should be provided,” CCHR said.
It also called on the government to immediately and impartially investigate all instances of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and the excessive use of force by security forces during assemblies.
The perpetrators, it said, should be brought to justice to provide redress for victims while all restrictions on the freedom of peaceful assembly should cease.
National Police spokesperson Chhay Kim Khoeun said people were allowed to protest but only peacefully.
“If people don’t have any intention of causing violence, the police will educate them and let them return, and they can have a representative talk to the authorities.
“However, there have been many cases in which police officers were beaten,” Kim Khoeun said.
Ministry of Justice spokesperson Chin Malin said the CCHR document appeared to put the onus on the police without having looked at the situation regarding each protest.
“In reality, we ensure any peaceful protest can take place, not only in relation to land disputes but in all cases. But any protest must be in line with the law.
“If a protest is illegal and violent, and affects private or state property or the safety of others, police will use all means to stop that violence,” Malin said.
He said officials had been punished when found to have violated professional conduct when performing their duties, including facing internal disciplinary action, while some had been sent to court.
“The report has just looked [at matters] from the outside and puts pressure on the authorities. However, the authorities will look at the recommendations to see if some points can be accepted and what we can improve in terms of legal enforcement,” Malin said.