Report Says Cambodia in ‘Human Rights Crisis’

Last year’s disputed national election was the tipping point after which Cambodia “became engulfed in a human rights crisis,” according to a report by Human Rights Watch released Tuesday.

The human rights situation in Cambodia deteriorated in the wake of the July 28 election, which saw the government violently suppress attempts by dissatisfied citizens to take their concerns to the streets, the Cambodia chapter in Rights Watch’s 2014 World Report said.

“Large-scale demonstrations ensued amidst credible allegations that electoral irregularities and CPP control over election bodies affected the final outcome,” the report says, referring to a disputed outcome that saw the ruling party claim 68 seats to the opposition CNRP’s 55.

“Security forces repeatedly used excessive force to suppress post-election protests and social unrest,” it continued.

The report also notes that while the government allows labor unions to exist, “strikes are often violently broken up by security forces.”

The most recent incidents occurred on January 2 and 3, when police shot dead five garment workers protesting for a higher minimum wage in Phnom Penh’s Pur Senchey district and injured more than 40 others.

Additionally, the report lists land grabs, arbitrary detention of drug users and sex workers, and the arrests of activists as among the main human rights problems in the country.

Rights Watch also criticized the judicial system, noting that it had failed to ensure that former Bavet City governor Chhouk Bundith, convicted of shooting and injuring three garment workers, serves his prison sentence.

Powerful people continue to grab land, the report says, “provoking sometimes violent confrontations” but noted that a land-titling program spearheaded by Prime Minister Hun Sen “had benefited up to 360,000 households.”

Rights Watch’s Asia director, Brad Adams, said the time had come for the international community—particularly members that provide funds to Cambodia—to hold Mr. Hun Sen’s government to account for its actions.

“Cambodians have increasingly demonstrated a desire to exercise their basic rights in the face of an entrenched ruling party that shows no willingness to respect them,” he said.

“Most international donors, who provide much of the government’s budget, are still stuck in a ‘see no evil’ mentality that misses out on the Cambodian public’s dismay with persistent bad governance, corruption, and repression.”

Chheang Vun, spokesman for the National Assembly, spoke briefly about the poor assessment of the country’s human rights situation.

“Human Rights Watch is not a referee; it has never loved Khmer people, so I don’t have any comment,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Khuon Narim)

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