The AHRC wishes to express the deepest sympathies to the people of Cambodia in the aftermath of the Bon Om Touk festival stampede that this Monday night left at least 375 dead and 755 injured according to Cambodia’s Bayon TV.
Prime Minister Hun Sen recognized Monday night as “the biggest tragedy we have experienced in the last 31 years, since the collapse of the Khmer Rouge regime.” The majority of those who perished were from rural areas. An estimated two-thirds of those who died were women, less able to fight their way from the crowds, indicating the extreme vulnerability of Cambodian women to disaster.
The AHRC calls for the government of Cambodia to adequately care for survivors and the families of those killed. Further, the government must thoroughly investigate the causes of the stampede as well as responses by police, emergency personnel, and hospitals to ensure such a tragedy does not occur again.
While the exact cause of the stampede last night remains unclear, with contradictory reports indicating it may have been instigated by either crowd antics or poor construction of the bridge to Koh Pich island, the failure of the state to control the crowd and limit the damage from the stampede is clear. Eyewitness reports state that the military used water cannons on the crowd after the stampede began, with the effect of causing electric shocks when the water intersected with the electric wiring on the bridge. In addition to death by crushing, suffocation, and drowning, there were multiple deaths due to electricity. The instances of electrocution must have stemmed from either the electric wiring on the bridge or military intervention. In either case, the government must investigate and make restitution.
It is clear, too, that Phnom Penh was unprepared for any large-scale disaster. Responses by police and military were lacking and may even have contributed to the stampede while hospitals were overwhelmed. Emergency and medical personnel resorted to piling bodies together, covering them with mats or sheets. Families were forced to attempt to lift sheets over bodies placed in makeshift morgue tents outside of the hospital or wander through corridors looking for victims. The capital possessed only 60 coffins altogether, requiring that others be gathered from outlying areas in order to provide accommodation for the bodies as they were prepared for identification and transport from the four major hospitals in the area.