Rights Worsened in ’09, Human Rights Watch Says

New York-based Human Rights Watch denounced the government in an annual global survey released yesterday, saying that Cambodia’s “respect for human rights continued its downward spiral during 2009.”

Among the issues highlighted in the Rights Watch report, which pulls together a year’s worth of investigations into rights violations, are “setbacks” on freedom of expression and misuse of the court system to silence critics.”

The CPP “continued to use an array of repressive tactics, including harassment, threats, violence, and arbitrary arrest, to suppress political rivals, opposition journalists, land rights activists, and trade unionists,” the group said.

Violations detailed in the five-page country summary range from defamation lawsuits against the opposition and journalists to “sweeps” of beggars and sex workers and to an increase in mismanaged land disputes. The report also asserts that government interference at the Khmer Rouge tribunal has “seriously undermined the court’s integrity,” and that the country has failed to provide sufficient refuge for asylum seekers, particularly for members of the ethnic Khmer minority in southern Vietnam.

“There’s no question that space for democracy is very limited,” said SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua, whose defamation suit and subsequent loss of legal representation was noted in the Rights Watch report. “It is very discouraging that the government in putting in more restrictions.”

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said the report was “misleading and shoddy in quality.”

“It’s not a scientific report,” Mr Siphan said, adding that in the case of defamation suits, the court is simply carrying out the law and that in evictions, the government is careful to make sure proper arrangements for alternative housing and access to loans are made available.

“They’re always saying there’s no freedom, no rights,” he said. “They should come back and learn and watch the people and see that they’re happy…. These people, they just work in an air conditioned office.”

Om Yentieng, chairman of the government’s Commission on Human Rights, declined to comment. (Additional reporting by Cheng Sokhorng)


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