The U.S. State Department on Friday released a damning assessment of the conduct of Cambodia’s elections and also took note of the “arbitrary and possibly unlawful” killing of a bystander by government forces and other human rights concerns in a report on human rights around the globe.
The 10,800-word country report on Cambodia, which covers the State Department’s assessment of the country’s rights situation between January and December of 2013, found that “in addition to a flawed electoral process, the three leading human rights problems were a politicized and ineffective judiciary, constraints on freedom of press and assembly, and abuse of prison detainees.”
“The government prosecuted some officials who committed abuses, but impunity for corruption and most abuses persisted,” the report says.
The report found that the July national election, which resulted in a disputed win for the ruling CPP and eventual and presently ongoing boycott of parliament by the opposition CNRP, was “flawed and poorly managed,” which “disenfranchised a significant number of eligible voters.”
The electoral process also “suffered from numerous flaws, including problems with the voter registry, unequal access to the media, and the issuance of an unusually large number of temporary official identification cards to voters” on election day.
In addition, “authorities maintained effective control over the security forces,” though the “security forces committed human rights abuses.”
This was particularly notable in the wake of July’s election, when the opposition staged large demonstrations and marches in Phnom Penh, the report says.
“Government security forces responded by maintaining a minimal and restrained presence at the permitted site of demonstrations,” it says. “Several civilians and police were injured and one person was killed during clashes at roadblocks located away from the protest site.”
The report noted that the authorities failed to conduct a transparent investigation into the killing of the bystander, 29-year-old Mao Sok Chan, who was shot in the head.
Among the three human rights issues that concerned the State Department, the most worrying was the inability of the judiciary to remain independent of the ruling party.
“A weak judiciary that sometimes failed to provide due process or a fair trial procedure remained a leading human rights concern as large portions of society were unable to receive fair adjudications of their legal concerns,” the report says, adding that the courts were corrupt and politically influenced.
“Press reporting, particularly television, was often biased in its coverage and favored the ruling party,” it adds.
“Prison guards and police abused detainees, often to extract confessions, and prison conditions were harsh. Human rights monitors reported arbitrary arrests and prolonged pretrial detention.”
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he was aware of the report, but had yet to read it. Still, he said, “it’s not accurate.”
“A number of the cases have been improved a lot in Cambodia from day to day, and a number of issues have been tackled,” Mr. Siphan said.
“The result of this makes people happy and it’s easier to go on.”
As for the opinions of the U.S., he was unperturbed.
“I don’t want to challenge that report,” he said. “They can do anything they want. They analyze from their side—they eat hamburgers, we eat rice.”