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Human Rights Day a Reminder of Deficiencies: Advocates

An unidentified Cambodian woman raises her fist and cheers during the celebration of International Human Rights Day rally in the capital Phnom Penh, Monday, Dec. 10. 2007.

Cambodia's human rights situation remains in troubled condition, observers said Thursday, as they prepared to mark the 62nd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The UN declaration, which has become a guidepost for international policy and of Cambodian law, states that every human being has the right to dignity and protection from cruel or degrading treatment.

The declaration played a major part in the formation of Cambodia's modern government, following a UN-brokered peace and election following decades of unrest. It is celebrated worldwide every Dec. 10 as Human Rights Day.

“The human rights situation is still critical,” said Suon Sareth, secretary-general of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee. “In terms of inspiration of laws, it was great, but in application, the respect for human rights still has numerous problems because of the authorities.”

The rights group Licadho said in a statement Thursday that Cambodians remain victimized by the exploitation of land and resources, restrictions on freedoms of association and assembly and violations of their labor rights. At least 25 people are in jail in six provinces in land disputes, Licadho said.

“Cambodian people are suffering from a lack of basic rights: rights to property, housing rights, rights of access to education and freedom of expression,” the minority opposition Human Rights Party said.

The party blamed “the authorities and powerful persons” for rights deficiencies across the country. It also cited impunity, where “the responsible are not arrested,” as damaging to the country's rights environment.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said other governments compared to the current administration had worse rights records. “We have done much and improved,” he said.

Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement Thursday hundreds of millions of people worldwide faced rights abuses in education, minority affairs, health, death and poverty.

“On this Human Rights Day, I call on governments to acknowledge that criticism is not a crime and to release all those people who have been detained for peacefully exercising their fundamental freedoms to defend democratic principles and human rights,” she said.