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Ambassador Dismisses Rights Hearing as Biased

Cambodia’s top representative to the United States dismissed as biased a hearing at the US House of Representatives Thursday that is looking into Cambodia’s human rights record.

“We already know that they only invited the opposition party and non-governmental organizations,” Ambassador Hem Heng said in an interview in Washington. “It means that this is a biased hearing.”

The House of Representative’s Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, co-chaired by Frank Wolf, a Republican from Virginia, and James McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, scheduled a hearing Thursday to address “a concerning trend in the Cambodian government’s overall human rights record.”

Invited were Mu Sochua, a Kampot National Assembly representative for the Sam Rainsy Party who recently lost a defamation suit to Prime Minister Hun Sen; Kek Galabru, founder of the rights group Licadho; and Moeun Tola, head of the Community Legal Education Center’s labor program.

“Normally, the hearing needs to have two sides or more,” Hem Heng said. “But this hearing has only one side participating. So the hearing is trending toward the opposition party.”

International and local observers say Cambodia has seen a decline in media and personal freedoms, with critics of the government facing lawsuits and other charges.

The Cambodian Embassy in Washington released a statement Wednesday saying human rights in Cambodia have been improving.

“We have thousands of civil societies, from of expression, and the unions are progressing,” Hem Heng said. “Among these, there are at least 11 international organizations. Besides those, there is the office of the High Commissioner of the United Nations for human rights.”

Ou Virak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said by phone the rights situation in Cambodia has deteriorated over the past four years.

“In 2005, there were some arrests, some complaints, and then the situation was back to normal,” he said. “But in 2009, we see arrests and intimidation.”

Chan Soveth, a rights investigator for Adhoc, said political violence in Cambodia never meets justice.

“The culture of impunity in Cambodia from day to day is accumulating,” he said. “It is scary, and a serious concern.”