US Report: Human Rights Deteriorated in 2005

Although there were no political killings, human rights in Cambodia de­teriorated over the course of last year, the US State Department said in its 2005 Human Rights Report re­leased Thursday.

A wide variety of human rights problems were reported over 2005, including extrajudicial killings, the abuse of detainees to extract confessions, arbitrary arrests, anti-union activities by employers and government control or influence over television, the report states.

“Unlike in 2004, there were no po­litical killings. Nevertheless, the government’s human rights record wor­sened, as the country’s fragile democracy suffered several setbacks, particularly in the areas of political participation and freedom of speech,” it states.

“The government took actions that served to neutralize its critics through a limited number of ar­rests,” the report says.

Incidents cited include the kill­ing of five Poipet villagers by se­curity forces during an eviction in March of 2005, and the shootings of 19 inmates in Kompong Cham prov­ince during an attempted prison break in March.

Also highlighted are 88 illegal de­tentions by police and the denial of broadcast licenses to the opposition party, as well as a 53-percent em­ployment rate for those between the ages of five and 17 years.

“Vigilante justice persisted, as well as killings of alleged witches and sorcerers. During the year vigilante mob violence resulted in at least 22 deaths of suspected thieves and the se­vere injury of many others,” it stated.

Government spokesman and In­for­mation Minister Khieu Kanharith declined comment, but Samrith Pich, a CPP lawmaker who works on human rights issues, said human rights have improved steadily.

“Our country has difficulties but not so difficult as the [Khmer Rouge] regime,” he said. “Not a single citizen starved to death.”

Asked why the US, despite a deteriorating rights record, is increasing aid to Cambodia, from $44 million last year to $61 million pledged this month, US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle was careful to distinguish between the events of 2005 and those of 2006, when imprisoned government critics were released.

“This report refers to 2005, so we would not use the term deteriorating now,” he said, referring to the first few months of this year.

“The aid increase in part reflects our recognition of the recent developments,” he said.

The report, which describes hu­man rights in 196 countries, does not detail rights abuses by the US itself.

Last month, UN Secretary-Gen­er­al Kofi Annan called on the US to close the Guantanamo Bay prison where rights workers say detainees in the war against terror have been abused. The US Central Intelligence Agency was also accused last year of mistreating prisoners at secret prisons in Eastern Europe.

Daigle said the omission of the US in the report does not indicate double standards.

“It is not hypocritical at all. The administration has consistently said about…Guantanamo that it will certainly not tolerate abuse,” he said. “The scope of the report mandated by Congress is to report on the hu­man rights situation in foreign countries only.”


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