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Cambodia’s Rights Environment Backsliding: Advocate

Pung Chhiv Kek, founder of the rights group Licadho.
Pung Chhiv Kek, founder of the rights group Licadho.

Cambodia marked Human Rights Day on Saturday, but a leading activist says the country remains mired in a culture where powerful criminals go unpunished and unjust settlements take place outside the judiciary.

Pung Chhiv Kek, founder of the rights group Licadho, said Cambodia was now sliding backwards in its adherence to human rights norms, with the government continuing restrictions on free speech and a court unable to punish wrongdoers.

“A culture of impunity still exists,” she said. “We still have problems to solve in Cambodia.”

Pung Chhiv Kek said she remembered how excited people were when the concept of human rights was introduced in 1991, under the peace accords, which ended more than two decades of civil war.

It was short lived, as the government began to impose restrictions on their rights, she said.

That has continued, she said, and now the government is seeking more controls on rights groups and others in a proposed law to regulate NGOs. That law will be discussed on Dec. 19, in what some groups say is not enough time to review the draft.

“Nowadays we have a civil code,” Pung Chhiv Kek said. “Why do we need a second law?”