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U.N. ‘deeply alarmed’ by police crackdown on Cambodian striking workers

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 8 2014 (IPS) - The United Nations’ human rights office has said it was alarmed by Cambodia’s police crackdown on protesters, and urged authorities to exercise restraint, following the deaths of several striking garment workers last week.

The Cambodian authorities need to launch a “prompt and thorough investigation” to ensure accountability of members of security forces who used excessive force, spokesperson for the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR), Rupert Colville, said in a statement released Tuesday.

“We are following the situation in Cambodia with serious concern and are deeply alarmed by the disproportionate use of force by law enforcement officials in responding to demonstrations,” he said, noting that policing of demonstrations must comply with international human rights obligations.

Five people were killed January 3 when security forces opened fire on striking garment workers in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital and largest city. An additional 20 were injured.

The Southeast Asian country is a garment production hub, providing clothing for international brands including Adidas, Gap Inc. and H&M.

According to OHCHR, the striking workers pressing for higher wages have added fuel to political demonstrations organised since July by the opposition party to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

International union groups, including IndustriALL Global Union and the International Trade Union Confederation, have also protested the repression of worker strikes by Cambodia security forces. They said the employees had been demonstrating “peacefully” demanding a minimum wage of up to US$160 per month for their work.

Also on Tuesday, the OHCHR announced that the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Surya P. Subedi, will carry out an official visit to the country from January 12 to 17.

“My upcoming mission is part of my ongoing assessment of the situation of human rights in Cambodia,” Subedi said, noting that he will also be examining the progress made towards establishing an independent human rights institution.

The Special Rapporteur undertakes regular visits to Cambodia and reports annually to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

In his latest report, he urged the Cambodian Government “to speed up the process of promised reform of state institutions responsible for protecting and promoting human rights and to accelerate the process of democratisation of the country so that the benefits of economic growth can be shared equitably by all in the country.”

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