Amnesty International Latest Rights Group to Criticize Government

Cambodians continue to suffer from a raft of human rights abuses in­cluding “arbitrary restrictions” on freedoms of assembly and ex­pression, according to Amnesty In­ternational’s latest global report re­leased this morning.

The report—which includes sum­maries for 160 countries and territories—also identifies the adoption of the controversial NGO law in August, the jailing of opposition activists and the refoulement of Montagnard asylum seekers as some of the country’s most pressing rights-related problems.

“Unfortunately, numerous disturbing issues arose in Cambodia throughout 2015. Over the course of the year, the ruling party once again showed its unwillingness to brook any opposition, in the political realm as well as from civil society actors,” John Coughlan, Am­nesty’s Cambodia researcher, said in an email on Tuesday.

“The July insurrection convictions and the use of the courts to force Sam Rainsy into another ex­ile were further proof of the ruling party’s continued abuse of the crim­inal justice system for political gain,” Mr. Coughlan added, referring to the imprisonment of 11 op­position officials and activists in July for their role in a brawl be­tween security forces and protesters a year earlier.

Amnesty’s findings come on the heels of a number of other international reports criticizing Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.

In its “Freedom in the World 2016” report, the U.S.-based NGO Freedom House categorizes Cam­bodia as “not free” in regard to po­litical rights and civil liberties, while the Economist In­tel­ligence Unit’s Democracy In­dex places the country on the “cusp” of authoritarianism.

Corruption watchdog Trans­par­ency International’s Corruption Per­ceptions Index states Cam­bo­dia is now perceived to be the most corrupt country in the region—citing the nation’s troubled judiciary as the main reason for its poor showing.

In a statement accompanying its latest World Report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused the Cam­bodian government of having “launched a vilification campaign against rights groups,” while also listing a series of its alleged rights abuses, including complicity in land seizures and the suppression of op­position politics.

Rupert Abbott, a human rights con­sultant and former deputy Asia-Pacific director at Amnesty In­ternational, said such reports served multiple purposes.

“Governments are certainly an im­portant audience for the annual re­port, but while they may reject con­cerns and recommendations pub­licly, this does not mean that they are not paying any attention,” Mr. Abbott said in an email.

“Such reports, which are based on solid research, also provide evidence to support other governments, the UN, intergovernmental agencies and others in raising hu­man rights concerns.”

Mak Sambath, chairman of the gov­ernment’s Human Rights Com­mittee, said on Tuesday that all of the recent reports—whose findings he dismissed—blended to­gether in his mind.

“I saw this report and I think it’s nothing different from Brad Adam’s re­port and other civil society reports and the opposition’s reports,” Mr. Sam­bath said. Mr. Adams serves as HRW’s Asia director.

“It is almost the same. I can say it is seemingly copied from the other re­ports since nothing is new,” he added, calling Amnesty’s la­test work “baseless.”

“The most important thing for the government is to do things for the people’s interests, not to satisfy those critics.”

Asked for his assessment of Cam­bodia’s human rights situation, Mr. Sambath said the country was doing better than its neighbors.

“If we compare with countries around us in Asia, no one has as many freedoms as Cambodia,” he said, citing the large number of me­dia outlets and NGOs operating in the country.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan criticized what he de­scribed as the “one-size-fits-all” men­tality of in­ternational NGOs when it comes to human rights.

“Each country has different cultures: You’re Christian, you think some­thing else, you’re Muslim, you think something else, you’re Bu­ddhist, you think something else,” Mr. Siphan said, also dismissing Amnesty’s report.

“It’s just an international organization—nothing to do with Cam­bodia,” he said.

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