The U.S. State Department’s annual Human Rights Report, released on Wednesday, highlights poor treatment of Cambodia’s political opposition in 2015, and raises concerns about the judiciary’s “broad interpretation” of the crime of incitement.
The report, in its 40th year, is a summary of U.S. positions on human rights in 199 countries, with a 34-page section on Cambodia highlighting events and government actions that have infringed on human rights.
“The most significant human rights problems included a politicized and ineffective judiciary; growing restrictions on freedoms of speech, assembly, and association; and the use of violence and threatened imprisonment to intimidate the opposition,” this year’s report says.
Citing data from an unnamed NGO, it says there were at least 15 political prisoners detained in the country as of November, including 11 opposition figures jailed in July for their alleged roles in violent protests, and opposition Senator Hong Sok Hour, who was imprisoned in August for his involvement in producing a video that makes false claims about the Vietnamese border.
“Opposition politicians and civil society organizations reported that authorities often arbitrarily denied access to prisoners whose incarceration they believed to be politically motivated,” the report says.
It also highlights the “broad interpretation” of the crime of incitement by Cambodian courts, including its application to non-violent political expression.
“Senior government officials have threatened to prosecute opposition figures on incitement charges for acts including calling for a ‘change in government’ by electoral means,” it says.
Individual country reports within the broader Human Rights Report are initially compiled by U.S. missions around the world, drawing on government, legal, media, civil society and academic sources.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Courtney Woods said on Thursday that the findings influenced U.S. foreign policy and aid budgets.
“The report spells out clearly and in detail the concerns we continue to have about the human rights situation in Cambodia, despite the positive steps the country has made in the past few years,” he said.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the government was not concerned about another negative report about Cambodia’s human rights record, one which ignored cultural differences between two “very different democracies.”
“The negative issues they have raised, we have already reviewed ourselves and we learn and improve by ourselves,” he said.