US: Respect for Rights Failed To Improve in ’07

Despite the successes recorded in 2007 by the Khmer Rouge tribunal, which arrested and charged five of the former regime’s leaders, Cambodia failed to improve its re­spect for fundamental human rights last year, the US State De­partment announced Wednesday.

“The government’s human rights record remained poor,” the agency wrote in its global survey of human rights practices, published annually since 1977.

“[S]ecurity forces committed extrajudicial killings and acted with impunity. There was little political will to address the failure by government authorities to adhere to the rule of law,” the report said. “Corruption was endemic and ex­ten­ded to all throughout all segments of society.”

Government spokesman and In­formation Minister Khieu Kan­harith said he was too busy to comment Wednesday, while other officials said they were net yet familiar with the report’s contents.

CPP National Assembly First Vice President Nguon Nhel said the nation was still emerging from trauma, but had achiev­ed peace.

“If the evaluation is based on a country that has just emerged from civil wars, it should be praised,” he said.

“If this were the case, maybe there wouldn’t be any investors coming,” he said. “We can travel from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh at night any time.”

Drawing heavily on information from the US-funded rights groups Adhoc and Licadho, the report said police were responsible for 14 of 2007’s 53 extrajudicial killings, that 155 detainees in 18 prisons claimed to have been tortured and that the number of physical assaults by government agents rose to 180 from 164 in 2006.

The courts accepted forced con-fes­sions as evidence, according to the report, which also spotlighted February 2007’s unsolved killing of labor leader Hy Vuthy and June’s apparent abduction by security agents of Khmer Krom monk Tim Sakhorn, who is currently in a Viet­namese prison.

Labor Ministry officials had some success in upholding workers rights, according to the report, issuing companies with 1,032 formal warnings for violations, imposing 10 fines, charging five employers with breaking the labor law and regulations, and forwarding 83 disputes for resolution by the Ar­bi­tra­tion Council.

“No aspect of the law prohibiting child labor was adequately e­n­for­ced in the formal employment sector. No employer was prosecuted for violating laws against child la­bor,” the report said, citing 2006 da­ta that 1.5 million Cambodian children were engaged in illegal labor.

Labor Ministry officials declined to comment Wednesday.

Political observer Chea Vannath said Wednesday that Cambodia’s po­verty and violent past may ac­count for the poor grades in the report and that many abuses tended to occur in remote areas.

“In the big cities, local authorities may learn to respect human rights. Change the location…and the lo­cal authorities are not ex­posed to training on human rights abuses,” she said.

  (Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul)

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