Gov’t Rejects US Criticism on Human Rights

Drawing attention to recent revelations about torture by US intelligence officials in neighboring Thai­land, the Foreign Ministry on Friday strongly rejected US criticism of Cambodia’s respect for human rights.

In an usually blunt statement, the ministry denied the strongest allegations made two weeks ago by the US in its annual report on global human rights practices, including assertions that in 2008 Cambodian security forces had again been involved in extrajudicial killings, and that poor Cambodians continued to suffer illegal and sometimes violent evictions.

The US Embassy on Friday stood by the contents of the rights report and said the administration of US President Barack Obama is reviewing the previous administration’s detention and interrogation practices to ensure that they do note violate human rights guarantees.

The Foreign Ministry statement marked the second year in a row that the government has actively re­sponded to the US report, which has consistently found that Cambodia’s human rights record remains “poor.”

The Feb 25 report by the US State Department noted improvements in combating human trafficking but contained a comprehensive description of the failings of the Cambodian justice system, which it said was corrupt and subject to political interference. The report also accused the ruling CPP, and Prime Minister Hun Sen in particular, of dominating all three branches of government.

The Foreign Ministry appeared to say Friday that such criticism from Washington was tinged with hypocrisy.

“First, it is very normal in democratic countries that political party which wins landslide victory in democratic elections has to lead the country; and there is nothing unusual about such democratic practice everywhere in the world,” the statement said.

“Second, there is simply never ‘extrajudicial killing’ by security forces in Cambodia as mentioned in the report. This is only vulgar lie.”

Citing reports from the rights group Adhoc, the State Department said only three arrests were made in 40 such killings in 2008, “16 of which allegedly were committed by police, 15 by soldiers.”

Friday’s statement from the Foreign Ministry also made an oblique reference to media reports about the use of torture by the US Central Intelligence Agency in Thailand.

“[I]f enforcing rules to maintain public order is construed as human rights violation, then what does one have to say in terms of human rights respect on the condition in the secret prisons of a certain country where torture of prisoners is practiced,” as reported last week by Thai newspapers The Bangkok Post and The Nation, the ministry’s statement said.

The news reports in question discussed revelations made on March 2 by a US District Court in New York, which released a letter from federal prosecutors saying the CIA in November 2005 destroyed 92 videotapes of interrogations involving the “enhanced interrogation techniques,” such as the practice of “waterboarding,” which the US Justice Department now describes as torture.

The tapes were kept at a CIA safe station in Thailand, the same country where two high-level al-Qaeda detainees, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, were interrogated. The destruction of the tapes is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation. Thai officials have denied the existence of any secret CIA prisons in their country.

The US Embassy on Friday said Washington is scrutinizing its own actions as well as those of other countries.

“The three recent executive orders issued by President Obama regarding detention and interrogation policies and the closure of the Guantanamo detention facility indicate the seriousness with which the United States views our values and our commitment to act in accordance with these values by reviewing our past practices. We are continually working to ensure we live up to our values and ideals. President Obama has made it clear that ‘we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals,’” the embassy said in response to e-mailed questions.

In its preface to the annual rights report, the State Department said it was “mindful of both domestic and international scrutiny of the United States’ record” and that it did not consider criticism of the US “to be interference in our internal affairs.”

The report’s release is habitually the subject of reprisal criticism from the governments it singles out, such as those of China, Venezuela and Russia. However revelations about torture since the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001 have increasingly prompted some to ask whether US moral authority has been undermined.

“The US’ reputation has greatly suffered as a result of the last eight years,” said Sara Colm, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But that’s no reason for Cambodia not to improve its human rights record,” she said.

“The point about human rights is that they extend across borders,” she added.


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