Mayor Elliott and Human Rights in Cambodia

Although nothing was mentioned at last night’s city council meeting about the recent trip to Cambodia by a delegation from Lowell led by Mayor Rodney Elliott and Councilor Rita Mercier, the group did make the news in that country.  The Cambodia Daily newspaper reported over the weekend that Mayor Elliott plunged into Cambodian affairs to bring attention to several activists who had been jailed for demonstrating against substandard housing.

Rodney Elliott, the mayor of Lowell, Massachusetts, second from left, waits outside Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison on Friday for permission to meet with 10 anti-eviction activists jailed in November. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

The article begins:

The mayor of Lowell, Massachusetts—which has the second-largest population of Cambodian-Americans in the U.S.—on Friday visited 10 anti-eviction activists inside Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison, emerging to announce that he would lobby the government for their release.

Wrapping up a five-day visit to Phnom Penh, Rodney Elliott spent about an hour inside the maximum-security facility, where the female activists have been detained since their convictions over a pair of protests in November.

The full article is available on The Cambodia Daily website.  Undoubtedly this was a touchy issue for the Cambodian government but it was probably wise for Mayor Elliott to address it on behalf of his constituents here in Lowell. Hopefully we’ll get more information about this issue and the eventual outcome in the days and weeks to come.

Anyone who has dealings with the Cambodian community in Lowell quickly learns that current political divisions in Cambodia have a profound impact on the Cambodian community here in Lowell.  I’m not qualified to explain those divisions or identify who is on what side, but there is ample evidence that they directly affect what happens in this city.  Consequently, it’s important for everyone in Lowell, especially the city’s elected leaders, to gain a better understanding of Cambodian history, culture and current affairs – the good and the not so good.

It seems that this recent trip and especially the mayor’s foray into Cambodian domestic affairs might be a good starting point for a community-wide discussion in Lowell about these divisions on the other side of the world and how they impede efforts to build a stronger sense of community here in Lowell among all of our residents.

2 Responses to Mayor Elliott and Human Rights in Cambodia

  1. Sanbath says:

    As a Cambodian-American growing up in Lowell, the domestic Cambodian divisive politics is so frustrating. It impedes the work and progress that my generation are doing and try to do. We don’t have ties and nor do I care about politics in Cambodia. I’m worried about here and now. Trying to build and progress and work with what we have here in Lowell, MA, here in America.

  2. Jack Mitchell says:

    Seven women activists who placed a bed in the middle of a busy road in Cambodia’s capital to highlight flooding problems were slapped with a maximum penalty of one year in jail each for obstructing traffic on Tuesday, in a verdict condemned by rights groups as excessive and politically motivated.

    Outspoken land campaigner Tep Vanny and six other activists were also fined 2 million riel (U.S. $490) each for placing a bed in the middle of a Phnom Penh street during a protest that caused a severe traffic jam, according to Am Sam Ath, senior investigator for rights group Licadho.

    They were given the maximum sentence under Article 78 of Cambodia’s Traffic Law. All seven will appeal the conviction.

    Police arrested the protesters on Monday after removing the bed they used to highlight flooding in Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak community they claim was caused by a development project backed by Lao Meng Khin, a lawmaker from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP).”

    Radio Free Asia, Cambodian court jails seven activists for bed protest, 11 November 2014, available at: [accessed 24 January 2015]

    Let me get this straight. In Cambodia it is OKAY to protest in the street, blocking traffic? But, NOT on Rte 93 in Boston? #whichlivesmatter

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