Report Paints Dire Picture of Rights Protection

Cambodia in 2008 “continued its drift toward authoritarianism” under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said in an annual report received Thursday.

The report contained a scathing assessment of human rights protection in Cambodia ranging from political intimidation and seemingly arbitrary arrests of government opponents to the sluggish pace and charges of corruption at the ECCC.

“Authorities continue to use the criminal justice system to silence critics. Human rights defenders, journalists, trade unionists, and opposition party members face intimidation, violence, spurious legal action, imprisonment, and even death,” the report states. “Endemic impunity, rampant corruption, and illegal plundering of natural resources remain pressing issues.”

Om Yentieng, head of the government’s human rights committee, dismissed the report’s findings, saying Human Rights Watch was de­faming the country with lies and, in the pro­cess, making themselves look foolish.

“I refuse all of the accusations,” he said, “they are just trying to make up things, or they just want to spoil their name. They are playing the role as a puppet in order to gain an advantage for themselves.”

Om Yentieng took particular issue with the group’s claim that the national election in July was “flawed,” adding if the group had misgivings about the elections, it should have complained sooner.

Recapping the major events of 2008, Human Rights Watch called on the international community and donors to continue applying pressure on the government to implement reforms.

“Cambodia’s donors still have not seriously pressed Hun Sen and the Cambodian government to keep their annual promises to promote and protect human rights and establish the rule of law and judicial independence,” the report states.

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