Violations of human rights in Cambodia increased last year, particularly involving the rape of women and children, signaling a general deterioration in the country’s rights record, according to local human rights NGO Adhoc.
In its annual report for 2009, Adhoc said it had recorded more restrictions on free speech and freedom of assembly, though it also highlighted the fact that no one charged with defamation was jailed.
One bright spot in the year was the conclusion, despite “slow progress,” of the UN-backed trial of Khmer Rouge secret police chairman Kaing Guek Eav.
For 2009, Adhoc caseworkers recorded 460 cases of sexual violence, 41 more than in 2008. Out of last year’s cases, more than 75 percent of the victims were under the age of 18 and nearly 15 percent of the cases were settled outside of court with monetary compensation to the victims.
“This figure proves that the rights of children in Cambodia have been critically abused,” the report states. “We have noticed that the practice of a culture of impunity has made perpetrators unafraid in committing rape.”
The report also noted that almost one third of rapists are neighbors of their victims and that those under the age of 18 commit 16.3 percent of all rapes.
In certain cases, rapists killed their victims or threatened their lives in order to prevent them from contacting the authorities or to allow the perpetrators to sexually assault them again.
Speaking during a news conference marking the report’s release, Adhoc President Thun Saray said the organization has observed a cycle of human rights violations rising and falling in Cambodia.
Mr Saray said human rights conditions typically improve ahead of elections as officials do not wish to upset the electorate or draw criticism. After the results are finalized, violations rise again.
“It’s like a cycle. Restrictions increase and then decline,” he told reporters.
Cambodia held its fourth national elections in July 2008 and will conduct elections again in July 2013.
Adhoc also touched upon the new penal code and law on demonstrations, which were adopted in 2009, saying both laws have raised concerns about freedom of expression and assembly. For example, the report found 25 court complaints filed against journalists and 235 human rights defenders charged with offenses, compared to 164 in 2008.
Mak Sambath, deputy chairman of the government’s human rights committee, rebuffed the report’s findings, calling Cambodia a country that adheres to the principles of a liberal democracy and rule of law.
“If the government has done what is alleged in the report on the instances of restriction on the freedom of expression, the government would never get such strong support by voters,” he said.
“Regarding the disinformation and defamation charges, they are the duty of the court,” he said.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the report demonstrates the government does allow an open dialogue, however critical, in Cambodia.
“They have a right to say anything. That’s proof that the government respects the freedom of expression and human rights,” he said.