Cambodians continue to suffer from a raft of human rights abuses including “arbitrary restrictions” on freedoms of assembly and expression, according to Amnesty International’s latest global report released this morning.
The report—which includes summaries for 160 countries and territories—also identifies the adoption of the controversial NGO law in August, the jailing of opposition activists and the refoulement of Montagnard asylum seekers as some of the country’s most pressing rights-related problems.
“Unfortunately, numerous disturbing issues arose in Cambodia throughout 2015. Over the course of the year, the ruling party once again showed its unwillingness to brook any opposition, in the political realm as well as from civil society actors,” John Coughlan, Amnesty’s Cambodia researcher, said in an email on Tuesday.
“The July insurrection convictions and the use of the courts to force Sam Rainsy into another exile were further proof of the ruling party’s continued abuse of the criminal justice system for political gain,” Mr. Coughlan added, referring to the imprisonment of 11 opposition officials and activists in July for their role in a brawl between security forces and protesters a year earlier.
Amnesty’s findings come on the heels of a number of other international reports criticizing Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.
In its “Freedom in the World 2016” report, the U.S.-based NGO Freedom House categorizes Cambodia as “not free” in regard to political rights and civil liberties, while the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index places the country on the “cusp” of authoritarianism.
Corruption watchdog Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index states Cambodia is now perceived to be the most corrupt country in the region—citing the nation’s troubled judiciary as the main reason for its poor showing.
In a statement accompanying its latest World Report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused the Cambodian government of having “launched a vilification campaign against rights groups,” while also listing a series of its alleged rights abuses, including complicity in land seizures and the suppression of opposition politics.
Rupert Abbott, a human rights consultant and former deputy Asia-Pacific director at Amnesty International, said such reports served multiple purposes.
“Governments are certainly an important audience for the annual report, but while they may reject concerns and recommendations publicly, this does not mean that they are not paying any attention,” Mr. Abbott said in an email.
“Such reports, which are based on solid research, also provide evidence to support other governments, the UN, intergovernmental agencies and others in raising human rights concerns.”
Mak Sambath, chairman of the government’s Human Rights Committee, said on Tuesday that all of the recent reports—whose findings he dismissed—blended together in his mind.
“I saw this report and I think it’s nothing different from Brad Adam’s report and other civil society reports and the opposition’s reports,” Mr. Sambath said. Mr. Adams serves as HRW’s Asia director.
“It is almost the same. I can say it is seemingly copied from the other reports since nothing is new,” he added, calling Amnesty’s latest work “baseless.”
“The most important thing for the government is to do things for the people’s interests, not to satisfy those critics.”
Asked for his assessment of Cambodia’s human rights situation, Mr. Sambath said the country was doing better than its neighbors.
“If we compare with countries around us in Asia, no one has as many freedoms as Cambodia,” he said, citing the large number of media outlets and NGOs operating in the country.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan criticized what he described as the “one-size-fits-all” mentality of international NGOs when it comes to human rights.
“Each country has different cultures: You’re Christian, you think something else, you’re Muslim, you think something else, you’re Buddhist, you think something else,” Mr. Siphan said, also dismissing Amnesty’s report.
“It’s just an international organization—nothing to do with Cambodia,” he said.