Interior Minister Sar Kheng has agreed to a request from human rights organizations to hold a parade in Phnom Penh to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Wednesday, rights workers said Monday.
Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Kep Chuktema denied Friday the request for the 2,000-person parade, agreeing only to a celebration that didn’t take to the streets.
But on Dec 1, Christophe Peschoux, Cambodia country representative for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, wrote to Sar Kheng in support of local NGOs and their request for the march.
“The Royal Government has declared 10 December as a national holiday. This anniversary will be celebrated all over the world on that day,” Peschoux wrote to Sar Kheng. “It is thus particularly relevant and timely that this year’s Human Rights Day celebrations are conducted in this spirit and that all Cambodians who wish so, are able to freely exercise precisely those rights contained in the Universal Declaration for Human Rights without outside interference,” he wrote.
Responding on Saturday, Sar Kheng wrote a note on Peschoux’s letter and forwarded it to Kep Chuktema: “To governor of Phnom Penh Municipality to help facilitate because Cambodia is also a signatory of this convention and also last year, we also allowed it,” read the message, a copy of which was received Monday.
It was uncertain Monday as to whether the municipality has now agreed to allow the parade, as Kep Chuktema and Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak did not answer repeated phone calls Monday.
Sok Sam Oeun, president of the Cambodia Human Rights Action Committee, a coalition of 21 local NGOs organizing the march, said that the permission granted by the ministry demonstrated that there was less tension between the government and human rights workers.
“The government’s negative feelings [toward NGO workers] have reduced, and we have begun to understand each other,” he said.
Peschoux said Monday that the UN would continue to encourage provincial and municipal governments to encourage free assembly.
“The Minister [Sar Kheng] understands very well that this is a constitutional right; it is a very good trend,” he said.