WASHINGTON DC - Local rights advocates and political observers in Cambodia say they support the most recent human rights report issued by the special UN envoy Surya Subedi, despite denials of its veracity by government officials.
Subedi, who visited the country earlier this year, said in his report that upcoming elections face a number of irregularities and need reformed.
He also said that rights workers and journalists continue to face harassment and that the freedom of expression is of “principal concern.” Land disputes remain a concern, he said.
“To me having directly monitored the events for the past few years, it seemed this report revealed the obvious situation in Cambodia in the fields of human rights, rule of law and democracy,” said Lao Monghay, an independent political analyst. “And the report also focuses on the election and mechanisms of the election institution.”
Among the election irregularities, Subedi reported concerns about the use of state resources, such as government employees or vehicles, by political parties during campaigning.
“Some political parties reported threats, intimidation and harassment (including legal proceedings) against their members and candidates,” according to the report. “These are extremely worrying allegations.”
Subedi also reported on intimidation and threats to rights workers and journalists, including defamation or incitement charges. “The threats faced by these individuals have taken a serious turn for the worse, with an increase in the use of live ammunition against people defending their rights and protesting against Government policies and practices,” the report says.
“Since the beginning of 2012, there have been at least four incidents in which individuals have been shot,” the report says. This included the death of Chut Wutty in Koh Kong province in April and the death of a 14-year-old girl in Kratie province in May.
“These incidents have hampered the activities of human rights defenders in Cambodia, with many now fearing for their lives,” the report says.
Subedi said in the report that potential court prosecution under the criminal code has created a “chilling effect on freedom of expression in Cambodia.”
“Land disputes and forced evictions continue unabated in Cambodia, and feature the use of force by the authorities and business enterprises,” the report says.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the report is not an accurate reflection of Cambodia’s rights environment. “What Mr. Subedi sees is just a universal value that can’t apply in Cambodia,” he said. “The Cambodian government has many priorities to fulfill, but the work that can be done depends on the ability of one’s own culture. That’s important.”
However, rights workers say the government should heed the report.
“What they have missed, they should try to fulfill more,” said Am Sam Ath, chief investigator for the rights group Licadho, “to allow Cambodia to become democratic, have rule of law and respect human rights properly.”
Suon Bunsak, secretariat director for the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a consortium of rights groups, said the report “reveals much of the truth in Cambodia.”
Lao Monghay said the government has not done enough to improve democracy, rights and rule of law, despite its claims. “In fact, it has not,” he said. “And whenever there is indication about its lacking on these points, then there is a reaction.”