Beginning Thursday, January 2nd, authorities began what one human rights group has called “the worst state violence against civilians to hit Cambodia in 15 years.” In three days of clashes across Phnom Penh, four civilians were killed, prominent human rights leaders were thrown in jail, and future protests were prohibited. The crackdown has targeted multiple civil society movements that have challenged the government over the past six months, including opposition rallies, a garment workers strike, and land rights protests.
Monitors from the Cambodian human rights organization, LICADHO, filmed the recent violence, and released this video compiling footage from January 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. With the help of LICADHO’s video consultant, Lee Robinson, who filmed some of the footage, the Human Rights Channel put together the following explanation of what it is we are watching.
Thursday, January 2 (start of video-2:01)
A military special command unit attacked garment strikers in Phnom Penh’s Pursenchey district. Footage shows solders kicking and striking an unarmed civilian as the filmer shouts, “that’s enough.” They seize a rickshaw and loudspeaker owned by the garment union, after attacking it with their batons. According to the filmer, they beat Vorn Pao, a well-known human rights defender, though it is difficult to discern what is happening from the footage. As a press release issued by LICADHO that day details, “soldiers were seen brandishing metal pipes, AK47 rifles, slingshots and batons.” Several people were arrested, including monks and union organizers. (LICADHO has since confirmed the individuals arrested.)
Friday, January 3 (2:02-3:40)
During the night, small groups of protesters responded to Thursday’s crackdowns by starting fires in the Veng Sreng industrial area. Clashes with the military continued there into the morning. Footage includes soldiers walking through the area, the sound of gunfire, and clips of injured civilians. LICADHO staff “witnessed security forces using live ammunition to shoot directly at civilians.” Four demonstrators were killed that day.
Saturday, January 4 (3:41-end)
In another part of Phnom Penh, authorities raided Freedom Park, an area officially designated for free expression, and cleared tent camps of the opposition CNRP party. LICADHO described “thuggish civilians” working with uniformed officers to clear the park and keep journalists and human rights monitors out. The government announced a ban on all public assemblies “until security and public order has been restored.”
LICADHO’s Robinson explained to the Human Rights Channel in an email that “the atmosphere has completely changed. The rules have completely changed. However, people seem to be outraged rather than scared.”
The outrage has reached international diplomatic and business communities as well. Several clothing companies whose garments are manufactured in Cambodia wrote an open letter to the government expressing concern about the use of force. A UN envoy plans to visit the country next week.
The Human Rights Channel will continue to cover this story through the eyes of citizen and activists. New footage will be added to this in-depth video playlist.