Cambodia’s two main human rights groups broke from tradition Tuesday, marking International Human Rights Day not with celebratory gatherings, but instead with grim reminders that rights abuses continue to blacken the country’s already depressing legacy of mistreatment.
Licadho, which marked its 10th anniversary Tuesday, filled the airwaves with the voices of the raped, the robbed and the trafficked.
Fourteen rights abuse victims were invited to speak on air at four radio stations—The Women’s Media Center radio station, Beehive Radio, Voice of America and Radio Free Asia—describing their ordeals to the public.
“The 14 victims that we invited from the provinces are victims of rape, land disputes, human trafficking or violence,” said Chev Kim Eang, director of Licadho’s administrative office.
“We did this because we wanted all the people in Cambodia to hear their voices and how they were treated and how they have been affected.”
The group’s report, “Situation of Human Rights Defenders in Cambodia,” was released to coincide with Licadho’s anniversary and details the obstacles faced by rights workers in Cambodia, from simple intimidation to death threats.
But attacks against rights workers go beyond the organizations they work for, blighting the lives of the people rights groups seek to protect, Licadho said.
“Threats to human rights defenders also violate the fundamental rights of the Cambodian people, constraining freedom of expression and democratic participation,” the report said.
Cambodia’s other major rights group, Adhoc, observed the holiday with some 300 people in Kompong Cham province, the scene of repeated violence in past years.
“We chose this province because, according to our statistics, the majority of [human rights] cases happen there, such as threats to [political] party activists, land disputes and killings. We wanted to explain their rights to them and ask them to cooperate with us if they are abused in human rights violations,” said Adhoc President Thun Saray.
Thun Saray said he is particularly concerned about rights abuses during the lead-up to next year’s general election. Nearly a dozen people associated with the country’s communes have been killed since the February commune council elections, and election observers already fear problems with voter registration and candidate harassment.
The Khmer Student Intellectual Democratic Front released a statement Tuesday claiming some 20 “democratic activists” have been killed or threatened since the commune elections and demanded that regional governments “lead their people with common sense.”
Another student group calling itself the Youth Government Watchdog appealed to “developing countries and the government of Premier Hun Sen to stop activities that violate human rights, violent intimidation and inhumane acts [committed] against human rights and democratic activists.”
But while many Tuesday put the spotlight on rights workers, Licadho founder Kek Galabru said she believed that most rights abuses in Cambodia are committed against one of the country’s most defenseless populations: Children.
“Our statistics from the beginning of November show that there were 284 abuse cases which happened in our country, and 198 of those cases are child abuse cases such as rape or indecent assault.”
But most of those cases are quietly settled—not by the judicial system meting out punishment—but rather by attackers paying off the families of victims or corrupt court officials.
A statement released by the UN Development Program Tuesday calls for the “empowerment of women” and “a world in which the dignity and human rights of every person in every country are universally respected.”
(Additional reporting by David Shaftel)