The municipality has refused a coalition of 32 women’s groups permission to demonstrate outside the National Assembly today in support of the passage of the draft domestic violence law, NGO representatives and City Hall officials said Sunday.
Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema on Sunday confirmed that he ordered the municipal Cabinet to deny the women permission to demonstrate, but declined to say why.
Municipal Chief of Cabinet Mann Chhoeun gave a fuller explanation: “We want to keep our city peaceful, without demonstrations,” he said Sunday. “Furthermore, we are afraid some bad elements will disguise themselves among the demonstrators and do something bad.”
The Cambodian Committee of Women, known as Cambow, planned to gather more than 200 victims of domestic violence and women’s NGO representatives today, the first day of the Assembly’s new session, in order to push for discussion of the long-stalled draft domestic violence law.
Cambow applied to the municipality for permission to demonstrate early this month. On May 13, Kep Chuktema’s office sent a letter to the Ministry of Interior stating its refusal to authorize Cambow’s request, saying “it will affect security and public order in Phnom Penh,” according to Ly Sunlina, women’s rights coordinator for Licadho.
The following week, the Ministry of Interior replied to the municipality, agreeing with its sentiments about the planned demonstration, Ly Sunlina said. On May 23, Cambow received a letter from City Hall, refusing its request for permission to demonstrate.
“I feel sorry that the government rejected the proposal from the victims of domestic violence,” Ly Sunlina said. “People need to be able to speak out directly to members of parliament and government officials about their wants and needs.”
“It is unacceptable to suggest that a group of unarmed women, many of whom have suffered from violence in their homes, represent a threat to national security or public order,” said Kek Galabru, president of Licadho.
The draft domestic violence law has drawn criticism from some lawmakers and women’s groups for being too broad in its definitions of abuse in the home, and for attempting to alter traditional Khmer perceptions of marriage.
Kek Galabru challenged this criticism on Sunday. “Khmer culture never taught a husband or parent to hit his wife or children,” she said. “Our culture has always taught that a husband and wife should have mutual respect for each other and help each other in all situations.”
Regardless of the draft law’s failings, most victims of domestic violence consider the draft legislation far better than none, Kek Galabru said. One of every five Cambodian women has experienced domestic violence, according to a recent survey conducted by the Project against Domestic Violence and the Ministry of Women’s and Veterans’ Affairs.
On Friday, Cambow issued a letter in response to the municipality, calling attention to Article 41 of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression, press, publication and expression to all citizens. Cambodia has also ratified the Covenant of Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, both of which uphold similar freedoms for the citizens of all signatory states, the letter says.
“These women simply wanted to meet their elected members of parliament in a peaceful and reasonable manner, to make them aware of the depth of the domestic violence problem in society,” Kek Galabru said.
Cambow officials have decided not to proceed with the demonstration without the municipality’s permission, Kek Galabru said, because of the risk that participants may be arrested or physically harmed. “I am afraid that if we [demonstrate], police may fight us with electric batons,” she explained.