Boeng Kak Activists Protest State Violence Against Women

Less than a week after she was released from prison pending a retrial on controversial criminal charges laid down last year, housing rights activist Yorm Bopha on Thursday led a march of about 500 people to deliver a petition calling on the government to end its violent assaults on women.

Ms. Bopha was joined for the 5-km march through Phnom Penh by fellow Boeng Kak activist Tep Vanny and victims of other violent land grabs. The march was intended to criticize a two-week campaign against gender violence launched Monday by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the U.N. for being mere lip service.

“We ask [Women’s Affairs Minister] Ing Kantha Phavi to end the violence that comes from the armed forces and from the government’s orders,” said Ms. Vanny at a rally stop in front of the Women’s Affairs Ministry.

The mostly female marchers took their rally from Wat Phnom to the headquarters of the Na­tional Police near the base of Monivong Bridge, stopping at the Women’s Affairs Ministry and at U.N. offices on Street 51.

They berated both the ministry and the U.N. in Cambodia for launching the Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender Violence educational campaign.

“U.N. Women has based an office in Cambodia, but they have never paid attention to all the violence committed by the armed forces during forced land evictions and in garment factory work,” Ms. Vanny said, calling for U.N. Women to take a more proactive role against violence committed by the government in Cambodia.

A press release from the activists cited police assaults on women during land grabs, the shooting of three female garment factory workers by former Bavet City governor Chhouk Bundith last year and the violent nighttime assault on female activists and journalists at a vigil against land-grabbing at Wat Phnom on September 22 as examples of the government’s disregard for the safety of women.

“At the demonstration of SL workers, armed forces fired their weapons and killed a woman,” said Vorn Pao, president of the Independent Democratic Union of Informal Economic Association, asking the rally-goers what the ministry was doing at the time.

“Where is its statement? A woman died and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs has done absolutely nothing.”

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs could not be reached for comment.

Jenna Holliday, spokesperson for U.N. Women in Cambodia, said that she welcomed any criticism from women in the country, but noted that U.N. Women had published an opinion piece in local media last week criticizing government violence against women.

“[Such violence] is something we’re not only aware of, but something that has been part of our observations on Cambodia…and will certainly be an area we will pursue with our government and nongovernment partners,” Ms. Holliday said.

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