An upbeat crowd of at least 2,000 people wearing white T-shirts and caps and holding banners gathered outside Phnom Penh’s Wat Lanka on Wednesday morning to mark International Human Rights Day and the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
With music playing in the background, they marched a few hundred meters to Wat Botum, where they were met by an additional crowd numbering more than 3,000.
Though City Hall had kept organizers in the dark until the very last minute as to whether permission would be given for the parade, Sok Sam Oeun, president of Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, said he had always been confident the event would go ahead. “We were positive about the government giving us permission [to march] this year, but they answered very late,” he said.
In a statement to coincide with Wednesday’s anniversary, UN Resident Coordinator for Cambodia Douglas Broderick called on lawmakers to reverse the trend of the widening inequalities in Cambodia.
“Recent years have seen Cambodia’s economy grow rapidly. For ordinary Cambodians, this growth has brought hope and optimism. But so far, the benefits have not been evenly spread,” Broderick said.
Ven Samin, a representative of the Suy ethnic minority group, came all the way from Kompong Speu’s Aural district to join the parade, and to show that minorities have the same rights as everyone else. “The children, elderly, men and women [of ethnic minority groups] should have the same rights and freedom of speech and freedom to walk as other people,” Ven Samin said. “Currently, some people look down on us. When we talk they say our speech is too unclear.”
Though never able to walk, Eang Chandara said he had joined the parade to represent the Cambodian Disabled People’s Organization. Discrimination against people with disabilities is common, he said. “I came here to show the public that disabled people also have rights and freedoms just like other human beings,” he said.
Thun Saray, president of local rights group Adhoc, said the parade was better than last year, not least because of the presence of Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun.
Mann Chhoeun’s participation showed that the relationship between the government and human rights groups has improved, Thun Saray said. “I hope next year more government officials will join us since this ceremony is for everyone—people and the government.