GENERAL APPEAL (Cambodia): Police disperse people’s march protesting against land grabbing


Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAG-001-2008
ISSUES: Freedom of assembly, Freedom of expression, Human rights defenders, Indigenous people, Land rights,

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) writes to inform you that a group of indigenous people peacefully marching to protest against land grabbing in the northeastern province of Rattanakiri were dispersed on 19 December 2007. The police used water cannons and briefly took one of the organisers into their custody. This is the latest incident in which officials and security officers have been directly involved either in harassing or intimidating groups holding public meetings and demonstrations in order to prevent them from doing so.


On 18 December 2007, the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), a non-governmental organization (NGO), held a workshop in the northeastern province of Rattanakiri despite harassment and warnings by local officials and security forces to prevent them from doing so. About 160 people from indigenous communities attended. The workshop included discussions on human rights, law enforcement and the problems faced by the indigenous people, particularly on the issues of land grabbing and illegal logging.

Prior to the activity, on November 30 ADHOC requested the provincial governor to allow them to hold a one day workshop. It was supposed to be followed by a march towards the provincial offices where the indigenous people would express their grievances. On 14 December, they also sent letters to the governor, officials from the forestry department, police, court and the civil society, inviting them into joining the workshop.

However, on December 17, a day before the workshop began at around 5:30pm ADHOC received a letter from Chey Sareoun, acting provincial governor of Rattanakiri, informing them that their request to hold both the workshop and the march had been denied. At the same time about ten policemen prevented a group of 40 participants from entering the town centre in order to join the workshop. They had come from an indigenous community in O Yadao district. Chhay Ky, one of the ADHOC officers, had to negotiate with the police who later allowed them to accompany him to his house for the night.

The ADHOC, nevertheless, proceeded in holding their workshop though Chey Sareoun had already informed them that their requests had been denied. Strangely, at around 7:30am when they were holding the workshop, around 20 policemen arrived and informed them that they had been given permission to proceed with their activity. At the time, policemen were seen deployed at the venue.

At 11am, one of the organizers, Pen Bonnar, was summoned to meet with the provincial authority later that afternoon. However, Thun Saray, president of ADHOC, met with them in his stead and was received by Chey Saroeun. During their meeting, Chey Saroeun charged that the human rights NGOs were working for a political party, the Human Rights Party. Chey Saroeun had claimed that “Human Rights NGOs are working for that party.” Another unnamed official who was also present at that meeting was also heard to have said: “NGOs are inciting people” to disobey [the] government orders. Thun Saray had to deny their allegations by explaining his organization’s work to them.

Unable to find any fault with ADHOC, Chey Saroeun yielded. He, however, did not budge on the preventing the march the group had planned after the workshop. Chey Saroeun had instead challenged Thun Saray telling him that: “Who is going to be responsible if there is any bomb blast during the march?” When Thun Saray dismissed his concern as very unlikely, Chey Saroeun then walked out of their meeting and told him he was too busy and had no time for further discussions with him.

The following day, December 19, at around 7:30am, two policemen went to the ADHOC office which is close to the Rattanak Lina Hotel in Banlung where the workshop was being held. They asked Pen Bonnar whether they would continue with the march. When the policemen learned that they intended to do so they started checking the banners and slogans the group had prepared. The purpose of the march was to call for the effective enforcement of laws, particularly the government’s enforcement to prevent illegal logging, deforestation and fencing of government owned woodlands for private ownership.

At this time, those joining the workshop had already assembled themselves outside the Rattanak Lina Hotel to prepare for their march towards the provincial offices. About 40 policemen were seen surrounding the hotel. Two fire trucks were also seen in the area. Policemen were also deployed at the roadside.

At around 8:15am, the marchers started chanting and banners and slogans were distributed which read: “defiance of the government order on the prevention, fight against and eradication of logging, forest clearing, and the fencing of woodlands for private ownership, is a mockery of Prime Minister Hun Sen“; “using motorised chain saw is illegal“; “grabbing of state land for private ownership is a mockery of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

However, a few minutes after they started their march, the policemen started hosing them and started pushing them back. A police commander mounted on the fire truck, grabbed the water-canon and aimed it full blast at the marchers. The impact of water-cannon pushed some of the marchers while others fell to the ground. A brief scuffle took place after the police physically restrained them from moving ahead, prompting the organizers to call off the march. The marchers went away from the police, reassembled at place nearby where they continued chanting their slogans and dispersed later.

However, though the marchers had already dispersed, about seven police officers were still deployed in front of ADHOC office. There were policemen at the house of Chhay Ky where 40 participants remained and who had spent there the night before.

At around 9am five policemen arrested Pen Bonnar and took him to the office of Mey Sakhan, the provincial prosecutor. Strangely though he was not asked any questions and the prosecutor instead offered an apology for not coming for their workshop. He was one of those invited by the ADHOC to join the workshop. He instead discussed with Pen Bonnar the cases of land grabbing his office had to deal with. Pen Bonnar later excused himself and left the court. However, later that afternoon, had received a letter from Chey Saroeun warning him for defying his order banning the workshop and their march.


There have been similar incidents in the past wherein the government officials and security forces are directly involved in harassment and intimidation to prevent forums and public meeting, in particular if the issues are critical of the government, from taking place.

In January 2007, the government banned a press conference on land grabbing organized by a coalition of 23 human rights non-governmental organization (NGOs), the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC). They deployed policemen around the office of the CHRAC apparently to prevent them from pushing their activities. They nevertheless pushed their activities through.

In September 2007, the government also banned a public forum organized by another non-governmental organization, Voice of Democracy. They also deployed military and policemen along the road leading to the forum purposely to harass and intimidate people to prevent them from participating. The forum was also about hearing the villagers’ grievances over a land dispute.

In November 2007, they deployed policemen to prevent another nongovernment organisation, the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR), from holding their public forum. The policemen have set up roadblocks to prevent the organizers from entering the place so that the forum would not be held.

The government also did not recognize the mission of Professor Yash Ghai, UN Secretary General’s Envoy for Human Rights in Cambodia, and disrupted his public meeting in December 2007. He was supposed to hear the concern of the people whose livelihood is directly affected because of unabated land grabbing. The government posted policemen to prevent a group of villagers from going to meet with him.

Please send your letters to the authorities below requesting for their appropriate intervention regarding this case. In your letter, express your concern about the use of unnecessary force and harassment on forum and meetings that could have benefits to the public. They must ensure that similar violence is prevented from taking place. The AHRC writes a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Special Representatives to the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for human rights in Cambodia calling for their intervention.

To support this case, please click here: SEND APPEAL LETTER



CAMBODIA: Police dispersed people’s march protesting land grabbing

Number of persons affected: About 160 indigenous people from O Yadao district and other areas in the northeast province of Rattanakiri
Name of alleged perpetrators: Provincial government officials and policemen at the same province
Place of incident: Outside the Rattanak Lina Hotel in Banlung
Date of incident: From December 17 to 19, 2007

I am writing to express my deep concern regarding the use of force and harassment by government officials and policemen on public meetings and peaceful demonstration in the northeast province of Rattanakiri. The policemen used unnecessary force in dispersing a group of around 160 indigenous people marching on street in 19 December 2007.

I have learned that though the public meeting or workshop, which was organized by a non-government organization Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), as part of their annual activity, had been pushed through it was not after some the provincial government officials, particularly Chey Sareoun, acting provincial governor, refused to fully cooperate with them. Though they refused to allow the activity from taking place the group nevertheless pushed through with it.

I have learned that although the request have been made long before and despite prior request by the group from the provincial government allowing them to hold the workshop and the demonstration, Chey Sareoun’s response to their request came a day before it is scheduled–which obviously gives the organizers no sufficient time. Though the programme had been pushed through, those joining the activity and organizers have been the object of harassment and intimidation.

I have learned that in the middle of holding their activity, policemen were deployed at the hotel where it is held and the organizers had been summoned by Chey Sareoun. The latter accused them of having engaged in political activity to which they deny in an attempt to justify their action to deny them from pursuing the activity. It is disappointing that the provincial government instead harassed and intimidates this group to prevent them into doing their activities–which could be of benefit to the indigenous people and the public.

I have learned that the subsequent street march after the workshop would supposedly be able to allow the indigenous people directly affected by the continuing land grabbing and illegal logging raise their concern; however, even this much the provincial government and policemen apparently could not tolerate or allow. What the police did was unnecessarily dispersed them using water cannons and pushed the marchers back to prevent them from going to the provincial offices where they are supposed to express grievances.

I therefore urge you to take necessary action possible to look into the actions taken by the government officials and the police in dealing with this public meetings and peaceful demonstration. I urge the concerned authorities to review the security forces’ procedures on this matter to prevent similar incident from taking place. They must amend any policies–if there is any–which allows harassment, intimidation and use of force on public meetings and peaceful demonstrations. I fail to comprehend why the police had to use of force.

It is disappointing that the government is either suppressing or preventing legitimate demonstrations expressing grievances, particularly the indigenous communities. The government’s involvement and tolerance on this is completely unacceptable. Failure to correct this practice effectively deprives its citizens of their fundamental freedoms to express their grievances in petitioning the government for redress.

Yours sincerely,


1. Mr. Samdech Hun Sen
Prime Minister
Cabinet of the Prime Minister
No. 38, Russian Federation Street
Phnom Penh
Fax: +855 23 36 0666
Tel: +855 2321 9898

2. Mr. HOR Namhong
Deputy Prime Minister
Minister of Foreign Affairs
No.3, Samdech Hun Sen Street
Sangkat Tonle Bassac
Khan Chamcar Mon
Phnom Penh
Fax: +855- 23 216 144, 216 141
Tel: +855- 23 214 441, 216 122

3. Mr. Tea Banh
Deputy Prime Minister
Minister of National Defence
Russian Federation Street
Phnom Penh
Fax: +855-23 883184
Tel: +855-23 883184 / 428171

4. Mr. Sar Kheng
Deputy Prime Minister
Minister of Interior
No.275 Norodom Blvd
Phnom Penh
Fax/phone: +855 23 721 905 / 23 726 052 / 23 721 190
E-Mail: or

5. Mr. Chan Sarun
Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries 
No. 200 Norodom Blvd.
Sangkat Tonle Basak
Khan Chamkarmorn
Phnom Penh
Fax: +855-23 217320
Tel: +855-23 211351 / 211352

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (

Document Type : Urgent Appeal General
Document ID : AHRC-UAG-001-2008
Countries : Cambodia,
Issues : Freedom of assembly, Freedom of expression, Human rights defenders, Indigenous people, Land rights,