Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen kept the bar low in a statement marking the 70th anniversary of International Human Rights Day, asserting that under his 33-year rule Cambodia’s people now enjoy more freedoms and rights than they did during the 1975-1979 rule of the Khmer Rouge.
Writing on Facebook, Hun Sen said that the rights of Cambodia’s citizens have been “fully restored” since the collapse on Jan. 7, 1979 of the murderous Khmer Rouge, under whose rule an estimated 3 million people are believed to have died.
“With such rights and freedoms, our citizens can enjoy their lives and work, and can choose their beliefs and religion and freely elect their own leaders according to their wish,” Hun Sen wrote.
“These rights and freedoms also allow Cambodia to develop and advance. Let us all jointly maintain and defend our [country’s] peace, so that this can sustain and support Cambodia’s progress.”
Also writing on Facebook, political opposition leader Kem Sokha—now facing treason charges in Cambodia widely believed to be politically motivated—said that national unity, peace, and development can be achieved only when others’ rights are respected, “especially the freedom of speech and the right to participate in the country’s development.”
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, human rights activist Am Sam Ath said that Cambodia’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party does not yet fully respect the commitments to human rights already guaranteed by the country’s constitution and in international covenants that Cambodia has ratified.
“We have seen that these rights either decline or improve depending on the country’s political situation,” Am Sam Ath—head of the investigations office of the Cambodian rights group LICADHO—said.
“Each time following elections, especially in 2017 and 2018, Cambodia has been subject to mounting criticisms from the international community regarding the decline in human rights. As a result, they have set out conditions for the restoring of human rights and democracy in Cambodia.”
'A great honor'
Meanwhile, in a statement Monday, the French and German embassies in Phnom Penh awarded Chak Sopheap—executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights—the 2018 Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law.
Speaking to RFA, Chak Sopheap called the award a “great honor” for all Cambodians working for democracy and human rights in the authoritarian country.
“I want to share this award with all human rights activists in Cambodia,” Chak Sopheap said, adding, “This also serves as a message to our country, and especially to the government, to recognize the value of activists.”
“I hope that Cambodia will ensure the safety and basic rights and freedoms for all our communities so that they can perform their work free from fear,” she said.
Also on Monday, hundreds of Cambodians gathered to celebrate International Human Rights Day at the newly reopened Freedom Park, now located on the outskirts of the capital Phnom Penh.
Participants in the rally—including members of civil society organizations (CSOs), famers, young people, and workers—raised banners demanding basic rights including justice, jobs, land reform, and a restoration of democracy in the Southeast Asian nation in which the ruling CPP swept national elections in July after using the courts to cripple its only viable political opposition.
Hundreds of plainclothes security officers were deployed to prevent participants from marching, sources said.
Speaking to RFA, Informal Economy Association president Vorn Pov said Monday’s heavy security presence had intimidated many who had wanted to take part in the event, causing hundreds to stay home.
“We had planned to have up to a thousand participants, but because of the presence of [police], many citizens became worried and afraid,” he said.
“As a result, many began to go home, and we now have only three to four hundred people.”
Celebrations of International Human Rights Day were also held under tight control in Banteay Meanchey, Preah Vihear, and Takeo provinces, where police blocked access to requested rally sites or restricted marchers to smaller districts, preventing them from assembling in large numbers.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.