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Flowers for the police

A protester offers a flower to a police officer on International Human Rights Day, when informal sector workers, including domestic workers and tuk-tuk drivers, attempted to protest in Phnom Penh on December 10, 2012. They were calling for the Cambodian government to ratify ILO Convention 189 guaranteeing the rights of domestic workers, and planned to take their request to the prime minister's office, but police stopped them far short of their goal. Protesters called for police pay to be increased, and offered water and flowers to the police who were blocking their passage.

I’m currently wrapping up a month-long reporting trip with a few days in Cambodia, most of it in the boonies, but including a couple of days in Phnom Penh, in part to photograph some demonstrations on Human Rights Day last Monday. I went to two very different demonstrations that morning. The second was a protest by people who've been displaced and left homeless by a large development project that filled in the capital city’s largest lake. A sordid tale of corruption in high places and people were rightfully angry, and the encounter between them and the police, who were dispatched to make sure they didn't take over any public thoroughfares, quickly devolved into a lot of pushing and shoving. The first demonstration, however, had a different tone. Here the police with their shields and batons held back a crowd of informal sector workers, including domestic workers, tuk-tuk drivers, and informal food sellers. The domestic workers, all women, were in the front, and they skillfully engaged the police by, among other things, chanting that the police deserved better salaries. I photographed them offering the police water, fanning officers who were sweating under their riot gear, and, in this case, offering a flower to a reluctant member of the force. He, quite literally, lets down his shield.

The workers here were calling in particular for the Cambodian government to ratify ILO Convention 189, which guarantees the rights of domestic workers.

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