A Change of Guard

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Monday, 2 March 2009

U.S. State Department report on status of Human rights in Cambodia not very flattering

Mr. Khieu Kanharith

By Duong Sokha

The American State Department released its annual report on the status of Human rights in 196 countries of the world. In a communiqué dated February 26th, the United States embassy in Cambodia reported that the authors of the document considered that the Human rights record in the country “remained poor”, and among the reasons cited for Cambodia's poor rating were security forces that act with impunity, the abuse of detainees, concerns related to land disputes and forced evictions, endemic corruption, the remaining challenge of a weak judiciary and the denial of the right to a fair trial.

A positive note is yet pointed out in the chapter about Human rights in Cambodia in 2008 : the enforcement of a law against human trafficking and sexual exploitation. The report does not fail to mention the “overall peaceful atmosphere” of the July 2008 legislative elections, “with a process that was generally an improvement over past elections”. And although some irregularities persisted on Election Day, “they were low in number and did not appear to affect the outcome or distort the will of the citizens”. However, it is reported that “observers noted the elections did not fully meet international standards, according to the report”.

Asked to react on the report, the Minister of Information and spokesperson for the Cambodian government Khieu Kanharith declared on Friday February 27th that the United States were not “masters of Human rights”, and that according to him, bad conditions of detention in the American camp of Guantanamo, Cuba, proved it. Having said that, he did not describe the report as incorrect, since “no country can pride itself on perfectly respecting Human rights on its territory”.

For him, although mistakes are inevitable, they are often the result of action taken by individuals and do not reflect in any way the will of the Cambodian government, which is “to encourage democracy and the respect of Human rights” in Cambodia. “If we compare [Cambodia] with other ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asia Nations] country-members, we have managed to put an end to the [civil] war [in 1998] and we are the last country who joined the ASEAN [in 1999]. We can be proud of the status of Human rights in Cambodia, it is a lot better than in other ASEAN countries”, the Cambodian Minister of Information estimated.

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