The Cambodian government should reverse its decision to refuse a permit to the Cambodian Women's Movement Organization (CWMO) for a rally in central Phnom Penh, Human Rights Watch said today. The rally was intended to mark the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day on March 8, 2011.
The government failed to provide any reason for its rejection of a permit in a March 7, 2011 letter from Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chutema to the CWMO. Speakers and a celebration were planned. Minister of Women's Affairs Dr. Ing Kantha Phavi had previously agreed to speak at the event, but when the permit was denied, she said she was no longer available to attend.
"The government's refusal to allow an International Women's Day rally first seemed like a joke," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "But no Cambodian government restriction on basic rights should come as a surprise anymore."
A coalition of trade union women spanning Cambodia's political spectrum was planning to celebrate a centennial of women's rights activism on the field across from the old parliament building. The government's decision came after it had installed banners proclaiming "International Women's Day" near Phnom Penh's Independence Monument. Similar banners have been raised around the country. International Women's Day is a national holiday and Cambodians across the country have been preparing to take a day off from work to celebrate the occasion.
In Cambodia, where ready-made garments - one of the country's largest commercial exports - are assembled by a primarily female factory workforce, the issue of women's rights and non-discrimination is central. Yet Phnom Penh municipal authorities have regularly denied permission for assemblies by various groups in the city.
"Refusing women the right to rally peacefully reflects the government's distrust of its people," said Adams. "The Cambodian government's creeping dictatorial rule should be of real concern to the country's donors."