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Cablegate: Cambodian Government Permits Ngo Human Rights March

VZCZCXRO6070
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #1491 3410907
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 070907Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS PHNOM PENH 001491

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/MLS AND DRL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL CB
SUBJECT: CAMBODIAN GOVERNMENT PERMITS NGO HUMAN RIGHTS MARCH

1. (U) Summary. In a step forward for Cambodia on freedom of
assembly, on December 7, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister
of Interior Sar Kheng gave a local human rights group,
Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), permission
to organize a human rights march and rally in Phnom Penh on
December 10. Organizers expect 5,000 participants to turn
out in honor of International Human Rights Day, celebrated as
a national holiday in Cambodia. End Summary.

2. (SBU) On December 7, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister
of Interior Sar Kheng granted local human rights group
Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC) permission to
organize a human rights march and rally in Phnom Penh on
December 10. CHRAC originally applied for the permission
through the Phnom Penh Municipality per the Cambodian 1991
Law on Demonstrations. CHRAC had requested that a
two-mile-long march be allowed through many of the main
streets of Phnom Penh during the morning rush hour. The
march was to convene for a rally at Wat Phnom in the central
area of the city. (Note: Coincidentally, close to the U.S.
Embassy. End note.) The municipality bumped the request up
to the Ministry of Interior (MOI) recommending the MOI deny
the request based on public order and security concerns, two
grounds for denial mentioned in the law. CHRAC told poloff
that, in a meeting with the municipality, the organizers
stated they were flexible on the location, and were willing
to drop the march part of the event. However, they were
adamant that the rally be allowed to take place in a public,
non-enclosed space, going so far as to threaten to boycott
official celebrations of the day if permission was not
granted.

3. (SBU) Early in the day on December 6, the MOI's initial
response was to allow the rally but at the enclosed Olympic
Stadium. Later that day, the Ambassador handed a letter to
Sar Kheng stating that Human Rights Day is an opportunity for
Cambodia to show its progress as an increasingly open
society. He encouraged the RGC to transparently engage with
CHRAC to find a way for the event to proceed while respecting
valid logistical concerns. The next morning, CHRAC met with
the municipality and was told that a smaller march than was
originally proposed could proceed with a rally following at
Wat Phnom. For the previous two years, Human Rights Day
rallies without marches have occurred inside the Olympic
Stadium.

4. (U) Comment. Two years ago, banners flown during a Human
Rights Day rally set off a chain of negative political steps.
Last year, the government allowed only a rally in an
enclosed, and tightly policed, space. This year's agreement
to allow the march and outdoor rally are a step forward for
Cambodia on freedom of assembly. Freedom of assembly has
consistently been noted in past years' Human Rights Reports
as not respected in practice, and most human rights observers
would have agreed with this statement. For example, the 2006
Freedom House Countries at the Crossroads report states, "The
government has frequently refused to authorize
demonstrations...". More steps are necessary -- including
greater transparency on the processes by which the RGC
reviews requests for peaceful demonstrations. However, the
RGC's response in this case is encouraging. End comment.
MUSSOMELI

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