UN Rights Envoy Urges Calm Amid Protests

The U.N.’s human rights envoy to Cambodia has urged restraint on all sides as public demonstrations increase across Phnom Penh, and called for a “realistic” wage for garment workers and for political parties to return to the negotiating table.

Surya Subedi’s statement on Friday comes amid mounting protests against a growing number of complaints: from the outcome of July’s elections, which the opposition CNRP alleges were won through voter fraud, to low factory wages and forced evictions. Five different groups staged protests around Phnom Penh on Sunday alone.

Though the sometimes rowdy protesters have occasionally been met with violence from state security forces, Mr. Subedi said he was glad to see “that the democratic space has increased to such extend that so many Cambodians feel comfortable to express themselves in streets without fear of retaliation.”

“I once again appeal to all [s]ides to exercise the utmost restraint and calm,” he added.

The U.N. envoy urged the CPP and opposition CNRP, which is refusing to join parliament due to its allegations of election irregularities, to resume negotiations and said the lack of a “credible mechanism” to resolve such disputes was fueling the protests.

“Such a mechanism was missing and this is why frustrated opposition supporters have taken to the streets. It is imperative that both sides come back to the negotiating table,” he said.

A few ad hoc meetings between CNRP and CPP leaders failed to make much progress toward settling the political impasse, which remains stalled for months now.

During a press conference at CNRP headquarters on Saturday, party President Sam Rainsy said the opposition was still willing to negotiate a settlement with the government, and proposed holding a “large-scale meeting” in the first few days of January in which both parties and civil society groups would participate.

Speaking that morning at Phnom Penh International Airport, where he was welcoming Prime Minister Hun Sen back from a state visit to Vietnam, Interior Minister Sar Kheng said the CPP was also still open to negotiations, but blamed stalled talks on a mercurial opposition.

“The CNRP keeps changing, but the CPP does not change its stance,” Mr. Kheng said. “We already have our group [of negotiators].”

Mr. Subedi also called for talks among all parties—the government, unions, strikers, factories and clothing brands—to find a “realistic wage structure” for the country’s roughly 400,000 garment factory workers.

“The talks need to be based on concrete data that reflects the real cost of a dignified life respectful of human rights,” he said.

Mr. Subedi said Sunday that his next visit to Cambodia would be in mid-January.

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