There are no human rights violations in Cambodia, the head of a Cambodian government committee told reporters on Monday following talks with a United Nations rapporteur on the rights record of the autocratic Southeast Asian country that has been run by strongman Hun Sen for 33 years.
“Accusations that Cambodia violates human rights are, frankly, not true,” Keo Remy, head of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, said in Phnom Penh after meeting with U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia Rhona Smith.
Especially in issues related to Cambodian workers, the Cambodian government has been paying closer attention in recent months, with Prime Minister Hun Sen addressing gatherings of workers on a regular basis, Keo Remy said.
“Some of our neighboring countries have single-party governments, and their human rights situations are no better than ours, but [the European Union] deals with such countries by giving them trade preferences,” he said.
Cambodia banned its main opposition party and jailed its leader in 2017, paving the way for Hun Sen’s ruling party to in all 125 seats on offer in parliamentary elections in July.
Also speaking to reporters, Rhona Smith said there remain steps the government can take to improve the human rights situation in the country “not just for the EU but for other development partners of choice for Cambodia.”
“I think there are always issues, and there are always challenges,” Smith said.
“But I think the government can certainly, if it chooses, improve the human rights situation in Cambodia,” Smith said.
In a move aimed at countering European criticism of his rule, Hun Sen has worked recently to persuade leaders from the bloc to forgo threatened sanctions against his government following July 29 national elections widely regarded as rigged.
Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in September 2017 for its role in an alleged plot to topple the government amid a months-long crackdown that also targeted NGOs and the independent media—ensuring that Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) emerged victorious from the July ballot.
Petitioners held, questioned
Meanwhile, Cambodian villagers trying to deliver petitions in land-dispute cases to the residence of Hun Sen were detained by police on Monday and released three hours later after being questioned, with five others later presenting petitions to the Phnom Penh office of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR), sources said.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service via Skype, one of the detained women, Chray Nim, said “This morning, they used violence against us. They threatened to slap our faces and to attack us.”
“We are neither culprits, nor thieves or robbers,” she said. “We are merely normal citizens.”
“Why did they treat us like this?”
Also speaking to RFA, Thida Klus--executive director of Silaka, a Cambodia-based civil society organization focused on good governance--voiced disappointment with authorities’ handling of the detained villagers, saying the women had not come to the capital “for pleasure.”
“They have lost their land for farming and have no way to earn their daily living,” she said.
“The government should urgently settle their disputes.”
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.