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Monks Begin Protest Marches Ahead of Human Rights Day

The 2013 International Human Rights Day on December 10th will mark one of the largest and most coordinated anti-government protests in Cambodian history. The current Prime Minister, Hun Sen, has been running a de facto one party state in the small Southeast Asian nation, and has an abysmal human rights record. But the tides of fortune seem to be turning on the region’s longest ruling strongman, with his Cambodian People’s Party losing 55 assembly seats in the 2013 national election – elections that were widely suspected of being rigged.

Multiple demonstrations will converge on Phnom Penh’s National Assembly building, including large groups of politically active Buddhist monks. Though monks participation in protests has been an emerging trend in Cambodia recently, the scale of the actions planned for December 10th will be the largest yet. Separate parties will travel down every major national highway, combining forces and joining similar protests from the main opposition party, and the garment workers union. The monks will be walking for roughly 10 days, spreading their social views to the villages they pass through.

Monks prepare to sleep for the night before waking early to begin their march.

Monks prepare to sleep for the night before waking early to begin their march.

Monks begin to wake at 5am in Wat Baray, their temporary home for the night.

Monks begin to wake at 5am in Wat Baray, their temporary home for the night.

Monks form up begin their day's march to Phnom Penh.

Monks form up begin their day’s march to Phnom Penh.

A woman asks for blessing outside Wat Baray, the starting point for the march to Phnom Penh.

A woman asks for blessing outside Wat Baray, the starting point for day’s leg of the march towards Phnom Penh.

The procession includes monks and citizen activist groups from communities affected by government policies.

The procession includes monks and citizen activist groups from communities affected by government policies.

Monks pass local traffic along national highway 6.

Monks pass local traffic along national highway 6, roughly 150km away from Phnom Penh.

Villagers wait in front of their homes along the highway, presenting alms of money, rice, and water to the marching monks. In return the monks offer water blessings recite the Dharma.

Villagers wait in front of their homes along the highway, presenting alms of money, rice, and water to the marching monks. In return the monks offer water blessings and recite the Dharma.

A villager kneels for a Buddhist water blessing along the highway to Phnom Penh.

A villager kneels for a Buddhist water blessing along national highway 6.

 

These images are from just one group of monks, along only one of the marching routes. When they finally merge in the capital next week, their numbers will have swollen into the hundreds. Though everyone is hoping that the government will not react harshly in light of it being Human Rights Day, foreign journalists are stocking up on anti-teargas supplies and riot protection gear in anticipation of violence.

The Ruom Collective will be dispatching three photographers and three writers to cover various aspects of the events as they unfold, and we will be sharing them as the happen.

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