International Condemnation Grows in Wake of Deadly Clash

The U.N.’s Human Rights Office in Geneva on Wednesday said it was deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Cambodia in the wake of the government’s move on Friday to fatally crush garment workers’ calls for an increased minimum wage.

In a statement, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) spokesman, Rupert Colville, denounced the “disproportionate use of force by law enforcement officials responding to protesters in Cambodia” and called for a full investigation into the killing of five and wounding of at least 42 protesters by military police armed with AK-47 assault rifles.

“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,” Mr. Colville said.

The statement added that the U.N. human rights envoy to Cambodia, Surya Subedi, had made repeated calls for calm in the wake of July’s disputed national election which has seen tens of thousands of people protest for a re-vote as well as garment workers calling for a wage of $160, opposed to $80, a month.

In a separate notice, the OHCHR announced that Mr. Subedi’s 10th mission to Cambodia would begin on Sunday and end on January 17.

“My upcoming mission is part of my ongoing assessment of the situation of human rights in Cambodia,” Mr. Subedi said in the statement, which added that he is expected to meet Prime Minister Hun Sen and other senior government officials.

In a Tuesday letter addressed to Mr. Hun Sen, unions and the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), seven clothing brands including Gap, H&M and Puma expressed their “deep-felt concern” over last week’s violence.

“We strongly oppose all forms of violence,” the letter says. “It is with great concern that we have observed both the widespread civil unrest and the government’s use of deadly force.”

They called for GMAC, unions and the government to engage in good-faith negotiations and set up a wage-review mechanism.

Since Friday’s clash, vigils and demonstrations have been held in front of the Cambodian embassies or consulates in Seoul, Berlin and Jakarta and more are planned this week in Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Bangkok, London, Washington and Istanbul, rights groups said.

In a statement on its website, the Thailand-based Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development —an umbrella network of advocacy groups—declared a Global Week of Action for Cambodia from Friday to January 17, and called on supporters to use social media to draw attention to the issue.

It also urged people to petition brands such as H&M, Adidas, Gap and Wal-Mart to push for an increase in the minimum wage in Cambodia.

Photographs from a vigil held in Berlin on Sunday showed a small group of Cambodians and Germans huddled outside the Cambodian Embassy, some holding up the Cambodian flag. A second event is planned for this weekend. A photograph from a similar event held outside the Cambodian Embassy in Seoul shows a group of people holding up signs, one of which read: “Mr. Hun Sen has to be culpable for the loss of life.”

In a statement on its website, Anna McMullen, campaigns director for garment worker advocacy group Labor Behind the Label, which is organizing a London event, said: “The use of excessive force and violence by security forces is horrific and disproportionate to the threat posed. This appalling violence must end.“

In the U.S., Republican congressman Steve Chabot, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, on Monday released a statement condemning the government’s handling of the wage strikes, and called on Prime Minister Hun Sen to step down.

“It is a tragedy that the people of Cambodia are subject to this never-ending cycle of government corruption, abuse, and lies. Hun Sen’s decision, to turn peaceful protests into a slaughter, by ordering military and police to fire on innocent protestors, must be condemned,” Mr. Chabot said.

“It is time for Hun Sen to step down, so that the people of Cambodia can look toward a brighter future.”

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