Violence broke out near the National Assembly this morning as notorious Daun Penh district security guards were brought in to disperse less than 100 union workers protesting against the controversial draft trade union law.
Union workers, rights organisations and workers’ rights groups – who had gathered near the Buddhist Institute as streets leading to the parliament had been barricaded by police – were pushed, shoved and in some instances beaten by the Daun Penh guards after the demonstrators started chanting slogans against the draft law, which comes before the Assembly for a vote today.
Yang Sophorn, prominent union leader and president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, was one of the protesters shoved to the ground during the scuffle. Suth Chet – a member of Collective Union of Movement of Workers, who is the subject of a criminal complaint in relation to a bloody clash in which counter-protesters beat unionists at the Agile Sweater Factory in Kampong Speu in January – was punched in the face by one guard while being restrained by several others.
“We were peaceful and there was no violence or traffic jam, so why did they do this to us?” Sophorn said.
She said the protesters wanted to convey to the government their dissatisfaction with the law in its current state, but the actions of the security guards was the opposite of what they were expecting.
“We have no confidence in the government, and if this law is adopted it will be implemented badly,” she added.
Given the peaceful nature of the protests, the security guards needed to be held accountable for their “immoral actions,” said Nay Vanda, the deputy head for monitoring at rights group Adhoc, who was also present at the protest.
The Daun Penh guards earned a reputation for gratuitous violence in the wake of the disputed 2013 elections, when they were frequently called in to disperse peaceful pro-opposition demonstrators, often by savagely beating them.
“So this action only shows that the security personnel still have a cruel attitude towards nonviolent protesters,” Vanda added.
The contentious draft union law has seen opposition from local and international trade unions over the last nine months, with calls to amend key clauses pertaining to workers’ rights – guaranteed by the International Labour Organisation’s Conventions 87 and 98, both of which Cambodia has signed.