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The government says removing the two events from the public-holiday list does not mean the celebrations are forbidden
PHNOM PENH--The announcement this week that the International Human Rights Day and the Paris Peace Agreement Day will no longer be public holidays as of next year has alarmed some civil society organizations in Cambodia.
“We are concerned and disappointed about that,” Soeung Sen Karona, spokesman for the human rights organization Adhoc, said Tuesday. “We have no idea about the real [reason for the] decision, especially about path the government means to choose in the future.
“Omitting the Paris Peace Agreement and Human Rights days from the public-holiday list reflects that the government is unwilling to promote democracy any longer,” Karona said. And this, even though Cambodia is a signatory of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he added.
The Cambodian government has announced that six public holidays will be removed from the list next year, bringing the number of holidays down from 28 to 22.
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor of the human rights NGO Licadho, said that all the days taken off are very important and symbolic for Cambodia. The Paris Peace Agreement day on October 23 recalls the signing of this document in 1991, which put an end to war and paved the way for the return to peace and normalcy in the country. “It was when democracy and [the respect of] human rights began in Cambodia,” Ath said Tuesday.
The country’s policies are currently under review by the European Union and the United States regarding its human-rights and democracy measures over the last few years, he said. “[I]t is clear that the government will receive more criticisms from those countries. And the impact is certain,” Ath said, adding that the government should reconsider this before next year.
A government-organization representative responded Tuesday that removing the International Human Rights Day and the Paris Peace Agreement day from the public-holiday list does not mean that people cannot celebrate these two events.
“We didn't forbid people from celebrating on those days,” said Keo Remy, president of the Cambodian Human Right Committee. “As we can see, we have a lot of holidays, which can create difficulties for the investors and private sector.”
Reducing the number of holidays, he said, “will persuade more investors to invest in the kingdom.”
The business community has complained for some time about the large number of public holidays, pointing out that these holidays added to employees’ annual leave stipulated in the Labor Law, considerably reducing employees’ workdays, which may affect productivity. This led Prime Minister Hun Sen to announce in March that the number of public holidays would be cut as of next year.
Social analyst Meas Ny said he welcomed the government’s decision but suggested that the government review the holidays to eliminate. It may be possible to cut some holidays linked to political parties and to keep the International Human Rights Day and the Paris Peace Agreement day, he said.
“The October 23 [Paris Peace Agreement] cleared the way for a real national unity and peace in our country,” Ny said.
Cambodia has been one of the countries with the most public holidays in the Southeast Asia, and one of the few nations in the world to make the International Children's Day and International Human Rights Day public holidays.