A leading rights investigator squarely blamed the government for the forced deportation of 20 Uighurs to China last week, as officials failed to examine their asylum status in time.
“As we have not done this, that’s why we received criticism from countries and from UNHCR,” said Ny Chakrya, chief investigator for the rights group Adhoc, as a guest on “Hello VOA.”
The Uighurs were reportedly fleeing unrest in their home province of Xinjiang, where anti-Chinese rioting in May left nearly 200 people dead. Twenty-two arrived through November. Beijing called them criminals, and, on the eve of the arrival of China’s vice president, Cambodia deported them.
The move prompted sharp criticism for the UN, the US and international rights groups, who said the government had failed to adhere to its international obligations to protect refugees and asylum seekers.
Government officials said they applied immigration laws and were not pressured by China to deport the group. They also blamed UNHCR for failing to assess the status of the group quickly enough. (Two Uighurs remain at large.)
Ny Chakrya said Thursday the Cambodian authorities themselves had failed to properly assess the asylum seekers and instead deported them as illegal immigrants.
“That seems to affect our obligation and violate universal human rights, as well, if the 20 Uighurs receive persecution,” he said.
China has already executed at least 17 people in the wake of the July riots.
Cambodia was obligated to investigate each individual case and to protect the asylum seekers until it could determine their status, Ny Chakrya said.
Any criminal accusations should have been investigated from Cambodia, using documents from China, to determine whether the criminal charges were politically motivated, he said.
International law should be applied before domestic law, he said.
“If those 20 Uighurs have problems after they return, then Cambodia’s credibility will face more serious [challenges],” he said.