United Nations Envoy Visits After Protest Deaths

The U.N. special rapporteur on the freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Maina Kiai, began a three-day unofficial visit to Cambodia on Wednesday, just one month after military police shot dead five protesters in Phnom Penh and the government imposed a ban on public gatherings.

Mr. Kiai, a Kenyan lawyer, is tasked with monitoring and reporting on people’s rights to assembly and will meet with union leaders and NGO representatives during his visit, which was organized by the Bangkok-based Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development. 

Mr. Kiai on Wednesday declined to comment outside the offices of the Coalition of Cambodian Workers’ Democratic Union (CCAWDU) in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district, where he met the union’s president, Ath Thorn.

Mr. Thorn said later by telephone that the meeting, which lasted about two hours, had been productive.

“We talked about freedom of association in Cambodia, about the right to organize and the right to join unions and we explained about the recent situation,” Mr. Thorn said.

“The rapporteur was also concerned about the situation in Cambodia right now and wished us success in our struggle.”

According to his official Twitter feed and Facebook page, Mr. Kiai has been keeping up with demonstrations in Cambodia for the past few weeks, noting on January 3, “a deadly and disturbing turn in the Cambodia garment protests” when five people were killed by military police and more than 40 wounded.

On Friday, Mr. Kiai is expected to visit the Boeng Kak community in Phnom Penh, the site of one of the country’s largest forced evictions and a hotbed of activism against the CPP government.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he respected Mr. Kiai’s choice to visit Cambodia, but that he should have come sooner to really assess the situation.

“[Protesters] blocked the roads and factories and damaged private property and forced factory workers to join demonstrations,” he said.

Government officials have largely held the five slain demonstrators responsible for their own deaths, while rights groups have lambasted the military police and their use of lethal force against stone-throwing protesters.

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