US Criticizes Cambodia’s Rights Record

The US State Department issued its annual report on human rights in Cambodia, saying, as it did last year, that the situation remains poor despite some improve­ments.

The report noted that there were fewer killings during the July elections than during previous elections, but said that the contest was marred by political intimidation and flawed voter lists.

Military and police officials were responsible for killings, political and non-political, in 2003, although there was no cause to believe that the deaths were officially sanctioned, it said.

The State Department cited a tally provided by unnamed NGOs, saying that there were 33 potential, political killings.

It mentioned the killings of Om Radsady, a Funcinpec advisor; Sam Bunthoeun, a Buddhist abbot who encouraged monks to vote; Chuor Chetharith, a pro-Funcin­pec journalist, and others as possibly being politically motivated.

There were 124 complaints of pretrial detentions that exceeded the six months allowed under Cambodian law.

The report also noted extensive failings by the judiciary, a perennial concern of donors and human rights observers.

“The courts were subject to influence and interference by the executive branch, and there was widespread corruption among judges,” it said.

Trials are typically a superficial routine that do not allow for sufficient cross-examination, the report said.

It attributed the judiciary’s corruption and inefficiency to a lack of resources, paltry salaries and inadequate training.

However, a growing number of recently trained lawyers has led to significant improvements in counsel, although they are still too few.

Statements by the accused were sometimes obtained by threat or violence, and illiterate defendants sometimes signed statements they could not read, the report said.

The government generally respected freedom of the press and speech, but did restrict journalists’ access to state facilities. The report noted Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema’s barring of reporters from public City Hall meetings.

It also mentioned that authorities removed a publication on actress Piseth Pilika, “A True and Horrible Story” from book stalls. The publication insinuated that Bun Rainy, the wife of Prime Minister Hun Sen, played a role in her slaying, the State Department report noted.

The government also denied citizens their right to peaceful assembly in 2003, the State Department said.

When people assembled without official permission, police responded with force.

The report also noted violent counter-demonstrations by the pro-Hun Sen Pagoda Boys Associ­ation, and that authorities failed to protect peaceful citizens.

Cambodia is still a significant source, artery, and destination for trafficked persons, the report said. Somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000, mainly Vietnamese females bound for sexual exploi­tation, are moved through the coun­try, the report said.

According to the Ministry of Interior, 62 people were arrested on trafficking charges last year,

41 of whom went to trial, 21 of whom remain imprisoned during court investigations, the report said.

According to a local NGO, 16 human traffickers were sentenced to prison in 2003, it said.

Om Yentieng, Hun Sen’s adviser on human rights, said Thurs­day he could not comment on the report because he had not read it yet. He declined to comment on the state of human rights in Cambodia.

The US government has encountered its own outcry from rights observers, who have condemned the detention of more than 600 foreign nationals—without trial, charge or legal counsel—at a US naval base in Cuba.

(Additional reporting by Thet Sambath)

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