Human Rights Watch made a bleak assessment of the human rights situation in Cambodia in its review of 2006, saying the veneer of political pluralism continued to wear thin as the ruling CPP consolidated power.
Prime Minister Hun Sen continued to strengthen his position through the year by strategically weakening or co-opting Funcinpec and the SRP, the New York-based rights group said in the report, received Wednesday.
“Opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s reconciliation with his former foe Hun Sen led to a notable decline in his party’s traditional role as government watchdog and advocate for the poor,” Rights Watch said.
The year was marred by the suppression of political dissidents, forced evictions and the “pillaging” of the nation’s natural resources by powerful officials, the report said.
Rights Watch also decried crackdowns on peaceful public demonstrations, a growing climate of self-censorship, a corrupt judiciary and a government that treats the international community—especially the UN—with “contempt.”
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith defended the government’s human rights record and called the report “very biased.” “Compared with other countries in the region, we are proud,” he said.
National Assembly and CPP Honorary President Heng Samrin said his party should not be held accountable for the fates of the SRP and Funcinpec.
“The SRP itself came for the compromise,” he said, adding: “Funcinpec became weak because of itself.”
Funcinpec spokesman Nouv Sovathero could not be reached for comment.
Sam Rainsy wrote in an e-mail from Paris that his party could be more effective by engaging with the powers that be.
“There may be a change in the opposition’s tactical approach,” Sam Rainsy wrote.
“But there is no change whatsoever in its principles and ultimate objective to bring about structural changes in Cambodia through democratic and peaceful means,” he added.
Human Rights Watch also took the US to task, noting that in March, US Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli praised National Police Commissioner Hok Lundy for cooperating on combating human trafficking and drug smuggling.
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation subsequently awarded Hok Lundy a medal for his support of the US’ so-called war on terror, though “Hok Lundy has long been linked to political violence,” Rights Watch claimed.
Contacted Wednesday, Hok Lundy declined to comment on the allegation, saying he had not seen the report.
Mussomeli defended his comments on Hok Lundy in a Wednesday e-mail.
“To not criticize a government out of fear is deplorable. To not praise a government when justly deserved out of fear of criticism is equally deplorable,” he wrote.