PHNOM PENH - Cambodians living near the airport have begun hanging photographs of US President Barack Obama on the rooftops of their homes, in anticipation of the US leader’s arrival here for a series of meetings next week.
Obama will attend East Asia and US-Asean summits here on Monday and Tuesday, on the first visit of a US president to modern Cambodia. He will be joined by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
The visit has meant increased scrutiny of Cambodia’s flagging human rights efforts, with outside groups calling for Obama to use his visit to push for more reforms.
In a public speech Wednesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen said he hoped there would be “no problems” during the US president’s visit.
Land rights activists have been warned not to protest during Obama’s visit, but representatives of communities that have been forcibly evicted from land in the cities and countryside say they are planning a massive demonstration in front of the US Embassy.
Hun Sen is expected to have high-level bilateral talks with Obama and the delegation, but it is unclear whether those will include discussions on Cambodia’s slipping rights efforts. A dozen US lawmakers have called on Obama to use his visit to push for reforms, with land grabs, corrupt courts and the exile of opposition leader Sam Rainsy at the top of their list.
Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, issued a scathing report on the regime of Hun Sen this week, claiming that members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party have consistently seen promotions, despite their links to extrajudicial killings and other grave abuses. The group blamed Hun Sen’s “violent and authoritarian rule” for supporting “countless killings and other serious abuses that have gone unpunished.”
“Instead of prosecuting officials responsible for killings and other serious abuses, Prime Minister Hun Sen has promoted and rewarded them,” Brad Adams, who heads the Asia program for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “The message to Cambodians is that even well-known killers are above the law if they have protection from the country’s political and military leaders. Donor governments, instead of pressing for accountability, have adopted a business-as-usual approach.”
Human Rights Watch called on Obama to use his visit to “publicly demand systematic reforms and an end to impunity for abusive officials.”