Recent protests in Cambodia over resistance to raising the minimum wage for garment workers have led to violence and death. At least four people were killed and more than a dozen injured on January 3rd when police opened fire in Phnom Penh on a crowd of demonstrators who reportedly were armed with sticks, rocks, and in some cases, gasoline bombs.
There are hundreds of thousands of garment workers in Cambodia who have been key to the economic progress the country has made in recent years. The workers were part of a nationwide strike demanding a doubling of the minimum wage from $80 a month to $160 a month to reflect the increase in the cost of living.
At a press conference, Department of State Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said that the United States ”deeply regrets the recent loss of life in Cambodia during violent clashes between protesters and government security forces:”
We condemn violence as a means to achieve political or other objectives and urge all sides to exercise maximum restraint and show respect for the rule of law."
“We condemn violence as a means to achieve political or other objectives and urge all sides to exercise maximum restraint and show respect for the rule of law. We have urged workers’ unions and the government to work together toward a peaceful resolution of labor disagreements, and we’re actively engaging the royal government of Cambodia, exporters, buyers, international labor organization and Cambodian workers’ organizations on the issue.”
The labor protests in Cambodia have contributed to unrest in the country, which has flared since the party of Prime Minister Hun Sen claimed victory in elections in July. Opposition and independent observers said those elections were marred by irregularities. In December, the opposition staged a demonstration where thousands of Cambodians marched to protest the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has held power for twenty-eight years.
On January 4th the Cambodian authorities banned all public gatherings and issued court summons to two opposition leaders and one labor leader.
The United States is closely monitoring events in Cambodia. Peaceful protest and freedom of expression are important aspects of democracy, and it is critical that the fundamental freedoms of the Cambodian people are respected as they continue to make strides in the economic development of their nation.