Cambodia Sees Little Rights Progress

Local groups see no progress this year in human rights in Cambodia.

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khmer-human_rights_day-305.jpg PHNOM PENH, Cambodia--Women walk past balloons bearing "Clean Hands" logo on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Dec. 10, 2008.

PHNOM PENHCambodians saw “no progress” this year in human rights, with human trafficking, forced evictions, and official impunity persisting as major concerns, according to Cambodian rights groups.

“Like last year, there has been no progress,” said LICADHO [Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights] president Phung Chhiv-kek in an interview.

“The land issue, the human trafficking issue, and the issue of sexual assaults have remained problems,” he said.

Journalists also are subject to physical and legal attacks, leaving press freedoms a “mirage,” LICADHO director Naly Pilorge said.

In July, Moneakseaka Khmer columnist Khim Sambo was shot to death, along with his son, by still unidentified assailants.

In another case, RFA reporter Lem Pichpisey fled the country in the spring with his family after AK47 bullets were found lined up outside his home. The reporter and his family have since been granted protection by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees while they wait for relocation to a third country.

“As far as law enforcement is concerned, we see that many fundamental rules have been broken, especially by government officials and wealthy people,” Om Chandara, director of the Friends of Khmer Journalists Association, said.

“When you break the law, this violates human rights,” he said.

Freedom of assembly

Restrictions were also placed on freedom of assembly in 2008, said Ek Visarakhun, secretary-general of the Cambodian Journalists Council, pointing to what he called “a serious downturn” in the rights of citizens to publicly express their opinions.

“In many ways, we do not seem to have the freedom to stage demonstrations or take part in public gatherings,” he said.

Cambodian Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak agreed.

“The people’s right to freedom of movement has been barred, especially for protestors trying to bring their protests over land disputes to [the capital] Phnom Penh.”

Sam Viriya, a resident of Prampi Meakara ward in the capital, Phnom Penh, said that Cambodia’s human rights situation “is getting worse.”

“Our people have lost faith in the authorities,” he said. “When we have problems, such as complaints about human rights, we prefer going to the NGOs, since state institutions care only about their own problems.”

Calls seeking comment from the government-created National Committee for Human Rights were met with replies from subordinates saying their superiors were busy or traveling.

Poor record

The U.S. State Department, in its most recent report on human rights worldwide, said that Cambodia’s record in 2007 “remained poor,” citing arbitrary arrests, endemic corruption, forced evictions over land disputes, and continued human trafficking.

In a Dec. 10 statement marking the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission said that "in the field of civil and political rights as well as economic, social, and cultural rights, people in Asia ... have so little to celebrate."

"Even after 60 years of the adoption of this great declaration," the Commission said, "the gap between what is declared and what is actually achieved ... is enormous."

Original reporting by Hassan Kasem for RFA's Khmer service. Khmer service director: Sos Kem. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written in English by Richard Finney. Edited for the Web by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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