NGOs: stop the violence

By Shane Worrell and Khouth Sophak Chakrya, Phnom Penh Post,  28 November 2013

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A female protesting in front of city hall is grabbed by the throat by a police officer in July. Heng Chivoan

In June last year, Bov Srey Sras lost her unborn baby after being kicked in the stomach by a police officer at a public protest.

The incident, captured on camera, came as she stood outside the Court of Appeal calling for the release of her sister, who had been imprisoned after a three-hour trial.

Following her miscarriage, Srey Sras tried to sue the unknown police officer responsible for kicking her along with his superiors – a move that prompted a response from deputy Phnom Penh police chief Phoung Malay that many considered repugnant.

“Is the victim old or young, and does she sue me to return her kid?” Malay said to a Postreporter at the time. “I want to tell her that if she wants to get back her kid, I am also young.”

Authorities have taken no action over the violence or Malay’s comments.

As a coalition of NGOs, unions and protesters yesterday called on government forces to stop using violence against women, Srey Sras remained without compensation – or even a simple apology.

Following the fatal shooting of a 49-year-old female bystander during a police crackdown on protesting SL Garment workers in the capital’s Meanchey district on November 12, Srey Sras is not convinced that an apology will come.

“The authorities and police are continuing to make violence against women … and they’re now shooting at people.”

In the aftermath of Srey Sras’s miscarriage, National Police spokesman Kirt Chantharith said disciplinary measures would be taken against Malay, but only if it was proved he had made the comments.

Such action is unlikely to be made, as Phnom Penh police chief Chhuon Sovann recently told the Post that Malay had been made a spokesman for the municipal police, while retaining his title of deputy chief.

Malay could not be reached yesterday, while Sovann was unavailable to talk and Chantharith hung up on a reporter after saying he was too busy to comment.

In light of violent incidents against female demonstrators – and the authorities’ unwillingness to appropriately respond to them – the coalition’s statement yesterday called on government forces to stop using violence on women who take to the streets to defend their rights.

“As the international community celebrates the 16 Days of Activism to End Gender Violence from November 25 to December 10, we … call on the government to end violence against women perpetrated by its agents,” a statement reads.

The statement was issued by groups including Licadho, the Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM) and the Boeung Kak and Borei Keila communities.

The coalition also called on authorities to launch independent investigations into all violent incidents against female protesters.

Incidents referenced included the SL Garment strike shooting, the electric shock and slingshot attack on women protesting at Wat Phnom on September 22, and the shooting of three garment workers in Svay Rieng province last year.

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Then-Bavet town governor Chhouk Bandith, who was responsible for the Svay Rieng incident, injured three workers when he opened fire on a crowd of strikers. He has since been sentenced to prison but remains at large.

“Very few cases of violence against women by authorities have been investigated, and even fewer have resulted in appropriate punishment,” said Tephalline Ou, vice president of the Cambodian Food and Service Worker Federation (CFSWF), in the statement. “As long as this continues, violence against women will remain commonplace in Cambodia.”

The coalition called on the Ministry of Women’s Affairs as well as police to take the lead in bringing about change.

When contacted yesterday, Sy Define, secretary of state at the ministry, said she was too busy to comment as she was getting ready for a wedding. Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi could not be reached.

Recent reports have highlighted the high incidence of violence against women in Cambodia.

According to a UN report released in September, one in five Cambodian men has committed rape, but more than 44 per cent of them have never faced the legal consequences.

Naly Pilorge, director of Licadho, said in the coalition’s statement that the connection between violence in the public sphere and the private sphere could not be ignored.

“It is not surprising that Cambodia has such high levels of violence against women, when the authorities themselves use violence with impunity,” she said.

Today, the coalition will march from Wat Phnom in the capital to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the headquarters of the National Police.

Srey Sras, meanwhile, will continue pushing for action to be taken over her miscarriage.

“I’m still suffering and feel sorry that [Phnom Penh Municipal] Court has not processed my complaint,” she said. “I’ll keep waiting for police to say sorry.”