Human Rights Watch urged Cambodia’s donors to pressure the government for improved human rights and judicial reform during this week’s donor meeting, adding that the government had made little progress on its past pledges to donors.
In a Friday statement, the New York-based rights group said that donors should no longer accept the government’s empty promises of democratic reform in return for aid. Representatives from 18 countries and five NGOs are expected to attend the donor meeting, scheduled to take place in Phnom Penh on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“The Cambodian government has made virtually no progress in the past decade on key pledges to donors on the rule of law or judicial independence. Impunity for human rights violations remains the rule. Corruption is rampant. Natural resources are still being plundered,” Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in the statement. “The donors’ list of conditions hardly changes over time, and the government simply ignores them year after year,” Rights Watch said. The group also said donors should insist that the government investigate the allegations of illegal logging detailed in Global Witness’ latest report.
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said that Cambodia has made progress. “Journalists in Asean countries say Cambodia is number one in terms of freedom of speech,” he said, noting that a free press was a main component of human rights. “Any country has corruption,” he added.
Khieu Kanharith also said that Cambodia has the rule of law. “Cambodia did not have traffic lights, but now we have them,” he said.
US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle said he had not read the statement and declined to respond directly to its contents. But he said the government had made progress since the last donor meeting in March 2006, and praised its efforts in combating HIV-AIDS and bird flu, as well as in passing a penal procedure code, civil code and anti-domestic violence law. “Our main concern is getting the anti-corruption law passed…. Corruption underpins everything the donor community is trying to achieve,” Daigle said.