The US State Department on Tuesday again drew a somber picture of human rights in Cambodia, saying in an annual report that the government’s record “remained poor” in 2006.
A series of abuses, from extrajudicial killings and torture, to irregular court procedures and failure to respect the freedom of assembly, are all cited in the 2006 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.
While the State Department’s 2005 report contained a similarly bleak assessment, the new report strikes several positive notes, noting that in January 2006, five activists detained in late 2005 over criticism of the government’s border policy were released. It also notes that prison penalties for the crime of defamation have been abolished.
Information Minister and government spokesman, Khieu Kanharith declined to comment on the report, referring questions to Om Yentieng, human rights adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Om Yentieng said he was unfamiliar with the report, but cast doubt on criticism of human rights in Cambodia. “If Cambodian human rights are awful like the report says, then you wouldn’t be able to interview me over the telephone,” he said, adding that some reported extrajudicial killings may actually have been accidental deaths.
Over 2006, there were 44 extrajudicial killings recorded by local NGOs, which found that perpetrators went unpunished in 26 instances, the report states.
Of the remaining 18 killings, nine were committed by the military, four by police officers and two by prison or rubber plantation guards, the report claims. Another two were committed by bodyguards of government officials or wealthy individuals, while one was committed by a Forestry Administration official, it alleges.
“There were credible reports that military and civilian police officials used physical and psychological torture and severely beat criminal detainees, particularly during interrogation,” the report claims.
The government generally did not respect prohibitions on arbitrary arrest and detention; police acted with impunity and took bribes; and the courts remained subject to political interference, often failing to respect criminal defendants’ rights, the report states.
“Life-threatening” conditions prevailed in prisons, where government statistics indicate that 90 inmates died between January and November 2006, mainly of AIDS and tuberculosis.
“Corruption was considered endemic throughout all segments of society, including the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government,” the report says.
US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle said the report is not intended as a rebuke. “We try to let the report and the facts speak for themselves,” he said. “As we say in the report, the situation remains poor…but we note there were also several positive developments.”
Thun Saray, president of the rights group Adhoc, which provided information for the report, said he felt that continued criticism from the US could bring the government to take human rights matters more seriously.
(Additional reporting by Yun Samean.)