Days before Cambodia deported 20 Uighur asylum seekers to China, Prime Minister Hun Sen signed a sub-decree that undermined the country’s international obligations, Human Rights Watch said Thursday.
The government writ “allows the interior minister to ignore both the procedures and the recommendations on refugee status of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees,” the international organization said in an open letter to Hun Sen.
“We respectfully urge you to amend the sub-decree so that it will truly be an instrument for implementing the Refugee Convention and for fulfilling the government of Cambodia’s obligations as a state party,” Bill Frelick, Human Rights Watch’s refugee policy director, and Brad Adams, its Asia director, wrote.
“We also urge you to consult with the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, to allow them access to all people seeking asylum in Cambodia, and to respect and honor the exercise of their mandate in Cambodian territory,” they wrote.
The new regulation smake Cambodia especially dangerous for asylum seekers in politically sensitive cases, such as that the Uighurs, from the restive western Chinese province of Xinjiang, found themselves in December.
In the days leading up to the deportation, Chinese officials said the asylum seekers were fleeing criminal charges stemming from unrest in the province.
After the asylum seekers, who had found their way to UNHCR, were put on a plane and sent to China, Chinese leaders pledged $1.2 billion in aid to Cambodia.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the organization had in its letter “worked with political motivation” against the sub-decree.
“We recognize political asylum cases, if it is a real political refugee, but not an economic refugee or a refugee from the law,” he said.