Local human rights groups re-jected government criticism of a human rights report by the US State Department, saying the violations the report denounced are real.
The “2008 Country Report on Human Rights Practices,” released Feb 25, stated Cambodia’s human rights record is “poor” and noted instances of extrajudicial killings and forced evictions of poor villagers. The Cambodian Foreign Affairs Ministry countered with a statement Friday contesting the veracity of the US allegations.
“Most of the things in the report are obvious. It’s very hard for anybody to turn a blind eye,” said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
“I think [Cambodia] needs the political will for us to change the human rights situation. The reaction [of the government] shows the lack of political will,” he said by telephone Sunday.
In its statement, the Foreign Af-fairs Ministry cast doubt on the re-port’s sources, mainly NGOs, saying the writers had relied on “misleading information supplied by certain organizations, which are monitored and financially supported by certain foreign countries.”
Ou Virak recognized that the CCHR had provided information for the report, but argued that the document is probably too kind to the Cambodian government be-cause the US must maintain good diplomatic relations.
“The fact is that for every case you see in the news or being published, there are a lot more,” Ou Virak said. “The level of violations of human rights in the country is alarming.”
Sok Sam Oeun, chairman of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee and director of the Cam-bodian Defenders Project, said the government’s reaction may come from its using a different yardstick than the US.
“The definition of human rights perceived by the US and perceived by the Cambodian government are different,” he said by telephone Sunday. “For me, I think it’s universal because we are all human be-ings. I still trust the US report.”
The Foreign Ministry also questioned the legitimacy of the superpower examining human rights in other countries, with a thinly veiled reference to recent media reports of torture in US secret prisons in Thailand.
The US Embassy on Friday said Washington is scrutinizing its own actions as well as those of other countries.
“The three recent executive or-ders issued by President [Barack] 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,” the embassy said in response to e-mailed questions.
The report’s release is habitually the subject of reprisal criticism from the governments it singles out, such as those of China, Vene-zuela and Russia. However, allegations of torture have led to questions about US moral authority.
“The US’ reputation has greatly suffered as a result of the last eight years,” said Sara Colm, a senior re-searcher 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.