The US State Department says Cambodia continues to struggle with human rights, with courts that fail to provide fair trials, security forces that use deadly force and a government that interferes with the freedom of assembly.
In its annual rights report, the State Department said Cambodia’s rights problems have become more politicized, following flawed elections last year.
“In addition to a flawed electoral process, the three leading human rights problems were a politicized and ineffective judiciary, constraints on freedom of press and assembly, and abuse of prison detainees,” the State Department said in its annual Human Rights Practices report.
The report also said the electoral system did not have the support of the opposition, which has boycotted parliament.
“The National Election Committee failed to address specific weaknesses raised by civil society and international organizations despite ample notice,” the report said. “As a result, key aspects of the electoral process before, during, and after election day lacked transparency and independence.”
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said not all of the information in the report was accurate.
Rights workers in Cambodia, however, say it does reflect Cambodia’s current rights environment.
Suon Bunsak, secretariat chief of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, said the constitutional rights of expression and assembly have not been well respected recently. Those exercising these rights have not only been ignored by the government, “but they’ve received harsh crackdowns,” he said.
Cambodia can improve its rights record simply by enforcing its laws, he said.
But there are problems within the judiciary and police, as well, the State Department said. Its report highlighted 30 different cases of abuse of detainees in police custody or, in one case, in prison.
“Kicking, punching, and pistol whipping were the most common methods of reported physical abuse, but electric shock, suffocation, caning, and whipping with wires were also used,” the report said. “NGOs reported that it was not uncommon for police to abuse detained suspects until they confessed to a crime. Courts used forced confessions as evidence during trials despite legal prohibitions against the admissibility of such confessions.”
The 2013 report did say Cambodia had improved in prosecuting some officials for corruption. And there were no political disappearances reported.
The report comes amid growing international pressure on Cambodia’s human rights failings. In Australian Senate hearings last week, diplomats say they shared international concerns over deadly crackdowns on labor protests in January.
Allaster Cox, head of the Southeast Asia division of Australia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, said the labor protest crackdown of Jan. 2 and Jan. 3 remained a concern. However, he said the ministry welcomed a Feb. 18 agreement between the government and opposition to work on election reform.