Rights Group Blasts Government Over Events in 2015

Human Rights Watch (HRW), long one of the most strident critics of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling party, again slammed the government on Wednesday for its failure to uphold human rights in Cam­bodia, with the release of its World Report 2016.

In a country-specific statement accompanying the report, titled “Cambodia: New Waves of Re­pression,” the organization said the CPP government had used state institutions to suppress the political opposition, violated various international obligations and “launched a vilification campaign against rights groups.”

“[Mr. Hun Sen] used his control of Cambodia’s security forces, courts, and civil service to force the opposition leader into exile, beat up opposition politicians, jail critics, pass draconian laws, and increase the ruling party’s stranglehold on the country’s institutions,” HRW Asia director Brad Adams is quoted as saying.

The statement went on to list alleged human rights violations committed by the CPP over the past year: failing to curb high-level corruption, allowing well-connected companies to displace families from their land, arbitrarily detaining vagrants in Phnom Penh, forcing asylum seekers to return to Viet­nam, and failing to arrest suspects charged by the Khmer Rouge tribunal.

But the bulk of the criticism fo­cused on the suppression of the political opposition in 2015.

“The leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party [CNRP], Sam Rainsy, sought a ‘culture of dialogue’ with Hun Sen, but the CNRP’s initiatives and re­form proposals were met with ar­rests or government attacks on the opposition and civil society,” the statement said.

In July, 11 CNRP officials and ac­­ti­vists were convicted on “trumped-up” charges of insurrection, it noted, incorrectly claiming the decision was made on the same day that the CPP-led National Assembly passed the controversial NGO law. In fact, the activists were convicted on July 21, while the Assembly passed the law on July 13.

The statement concluded by say­­­ing that foreign donors had continually expressed hope that the government would improve the human rights situation, only to have that hope “dashed by Hun Sen.”

“Yet donors have reacted passively and seem almost fatalistic about the prospects of pressuring Hun Sen to end his reign of abuses,” it said.

Chheng Hong Bo, spokesman for the Chinese Embassy, said Bei­jing, despite being the single-larg­est donor to Cambodia, did not have a role to play in im­proving the country’s human rights situation.

“Our position is always the same: We do not interfere in the affairs of a sovereign country,” he said.

Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which has overseen many of the abuses cited in the HRW statement, said the latest criticism was more of the same from a group that has been consistent in its pessimism over the years.

“I think that HRW, they don’t see Cambodia in a positive way, that is no surprise,” he said. “Every year, bad words, bad words, bad words.”

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