At least 100 monks and hundreds more civilians started out Sunday on a 10-day march along five major roads leading to Phnom Penh, aiming to converge on the National Assembly on December 10 to mark International Human Rights Day and submit a petition listing their grievances.
The march is another show of strength by a growing minority of politically active monks animated by July’s contentious national election, and they hope to add to their numbers as they approach Phnom Penh.
The Venerable Bun Buntenh, who helped organize what he called the “Peace Walk,” heads the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice, which boasts some 3,000 members and has in recent months spoken out against efforts to quash support for the opposition CNRP among the monkhood.
“We do not get justice from the election. Now we want justice,” said Bun Buntenh, who is most concerned about the government’s forced evictions and the political suppression of fellow monks.
“I think to improve the human rights condition we cannot improve from only one direction, from only politics,” he added. “But by using Buddhist principles…it will change from a bad condition to a good condition.”
As of Sunday morning, Bun Buntenh was leading 20 fellow monks and about 60 civilians through Pursat province’s Krakor district along National Road 5. He said groups of similar size were also making their way toward Phnom Penh along National Roads 1, 3, 4, and 6.
Bun Buntenh said they were marching despite the Ministry of Interior’s decision to reject their request to proceed and that police had pressured monks at a Pursat City pagoda into denying them shelter the night before but otherwise they were not being prevented from marching.
Spokesmen for the Interior Ministry and National Police could not be reached for comment.
The Venerable Ngim Sao Samkhan from Kompong Speu’s Phloach pagoda said he was leading 20 monks and about 100 civilians through the province’s Oral district along National Road 4.
“The march aims to disseminate Buddhist theory and connect it with human rights because we want the authorities and the people to understand the value of human rights, freedom and the right to give their opinions,” he said.
The Venerable Khim Sorn, however, chief of the Buddhist Mohanikya sect in Phnom Penh, said he opposed the march.
“We support marching in the right way, but we do not support marching with bad intentions because they create turmoil among the people and get them confused,” he said.
Yeng Virak, executive director of the Community Legal Education Center, who was joining the marchers along National Road 4, said the petition would be compiled from the grievances they heard from Cambodians along their way.
The five roads they were taking toward Phnom Penh were symbolic, he said, “because the condition [of human rights violations] is throughout the country.”
He emphasized that the final document would be submitted not to the National Assembly, but to the lawmakers of the ruling CPP and opposition CNRP. The CNRP is refusing to take its seats at the Assembly in protest over July’s election, which it accuses the CPP of stealing through fraud.
The CNRP is planning a mass protest of its own on Human Rights Day in Siem Reap.