28 January 2011
(New York) – The Cambodian government tightened restrictions on fundamental freedoms in 2010, making it increasingly difficult and risky for human rights defenders, land rights activists, and trade unionists to operate, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2011.
The 649-page report, Human Rights Watch’s 21st annual review of human rights practices around the globe, summarizes major human rights trends in more than 90 countries and territories worldwide. During 2010, Human Rights Watch said, the Cambodian government increasingly ignored or dismissed human rights concerns of United Nations agencies and international donors that have made significant contributions to the country’s budget for years. Instead, Prime Minister Hun Sen rebuked UN officials, threatening to expel the UN resident coordinator and the UN human rights office director in Phnom Penh.
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“The Cambodian government has used bluster and intimidation to push the UN and donors into silence about abuses,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The international community needs to advocate more forcefully for the human rights of the Cambodian people.”
The year started with the forced return of 20 ethnic Uighur asylum seekers to China, where they were at risk of torture. This flagrant violation of Cambodia’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention was made over strenuous protests by key donors and UN agencies. In March, Hun Sen threatened to expel Cambodia’s UN resident coordinator for calling for greater transparency in passage of an anti-corruption law. In October in a meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Hun Sen demanded the closure of the UN human rights office in Phnom Penh unless the UN dismissed its country representative, whom the government accused without evidence of supporting the opposition.
A new penal code contains draconian and vaguely defined provisions that permit criminal prosecution for peaceful expression. Shortly after the law went into effect in December, a World Food Program staff member was sentenced to prison on politically motivated incitement charges. Laws being drafted to regulate nongovernmental organizations and trade unions are expected to restrict their ability to exist, operate, and organize activities, in violation of the rights to freedom of association and assembly. Even without these restrictive laws, authorities regularly use force to disperse peaceful protests.