Rights groups yesterday criticized the government for its limited progress in protecting human rights as they marked International Human Rights Day, which saw demonstrations across the country calling for improvements.
In Kompong Cham province, the rights group Adhoc said authorities stopped a group of 200 demonstrators for about 30 minutes, though a larger march along Phnom Penh’s riverside, which organizers said included about 3,000 participants, happened without problems.
At a stage at Wat Botum park in Phnom Penh, right groups raised concerns about the slow progress of judicial reform, impunity for human rights abuses, land grabbing and restrictions on freedom of speech.
“As we all know, many serious human rights violations continue to exist in our society, such as forced eviction, the use of the court to suppress the voice of the opposition, intimidation of human rights defenders and restrictions of the freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” said Thun Saray, president of Adhoc.
Organizers of Cambodia’s celebrations described the themes of the day as “We all have an obligation to protect human rights” and “Stop discrimination against human rights defenders.” According to the rights group Licadho, 38 human rights defenders were in detention as of Nov 30.
Christophe Peschoux, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights representative and the source of much government criticism for his public statements, also spoke, though he made a more general commentary on the importance of human rights.
“It is primarily the responsibility of a government which is serious about human rights to enable and protect them, not only in words, but most importantly in deeds,” he said.
In October government officials made several statements about the imminent closure of Mr Peschoux’s office when its mandate ends in January, but have since said it is undecided on the matter. They also called him a mouthpiece for the political opposition and accused him of not cooperating with the government.
The UN this year has been a source for high profile criticism of the government’s handling of democracy and human rights issues.
A report released by UN human rights envoy Surya Subedi on Sept 16 called for an overhaul of Cambodia’s court system portraying it as corrupt, incompetent and politically compromised, echoing criticism that NGOs have made of the judiciary for years.
Mak Sambath, deputy chairman of the government’s Human Rights Committee, accused the rights groups of ignoring improvements of human rights protection in Cambodia and defended the legal system.
“Everyone has rights but they should follow the law. When there is any dispute only the law can judge decides who wins or loses,” he said.
“The government is working hard to protect human rights. The government created law and draft laws in order to defend the human rights as well as solve the land dispute.”
In Kompong Cham province’s Memot district yesterday, Adhoc coordinator Neang Sovath said that police and military police stopped 200 demonstrators in 8 trucks for about 30 minutes as they traveled to the site of the province’s scheduled demonstration.
After the demonstrators produced a permission letter from the provincial governor, they were allowed to continue, he said.
“If they didn’t have the permission letter, we don’t know what would have happened,” he said. “They made the people afraid which disturbed the people to join the human rights day celebrations.”
Em Kosal, the Memot district police chief, declined to comment as he was in a meeting.