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Rights Violations Worsened in 2009: Group

The human rights situation in Cambodia has deteriorated in the past year, Human Rights Watch said on Friday, citing numerous examples of apparent government failure to protect basic freedoms.

“Cambodia’s respect for basic rights dramatically deteriorated in 2009 as the government misused the judiciary to silence government critics, attacked human rights defenders, tightened restrictions on press freedom and abandoned its international obligations to protect refugees,” the group said in a statement, issued in the midst of a two-week visit by the UN’s special envoy for rights.

The statement coincided with the release of Human Rights Watch’s 2010 world report.

Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker Cheam Yiep said the statement was not a fair representation of Cambodia’s rights situation. Phay Siphan, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers called it baseless and lacking in integrity.

Human Rights Watch also cited ongoing evictions, land thefts and the arrests of community protesters and activists, along with silenced expression in the National Assembly and court trials against opposition members as evidence of the slide.

The group noted more than 60 community activists arrested or awaiting trial and at least 10 government critics, including four journalists and several opposition party members, who were sued for criminal defamation or disinformation.

The government was sharply criticized for allowing the deportation of 22 Muslim Uighurs back to China in December after they had reached Cambodia in search of refuge.

“Cambodia’s deportation of the Uighurs was a glaring example of the government’s failure to respect human rights,” Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said. “The Cambodian government showed its profound disregard for minimum standards of due process, refugee protection and international cooperation.”

Meanwhile, Khmer Kampuchea Krom seeking refuge from Vietnam or simply migrating faced obstacles in Cambodia finding places to live or getting citizenship, “despite pronouncements by the Cambodian government that it considers Khmer Krom who move to Cambodia to be Cambodian citizens,” the report said.

The rights report came as Surya Prasad Subedi, the UN special rapporteur on human rights, is in Cambodia to evaluate the rights situation.