WASHINGTON DC - The US State Department says “pervasive” corruption, a weak judiciary and ongoing discrimination continue to create human rights problems for Cambodia.
In an annual report issued last week, the State Department said Cambodian authorities continue to engage in arbitrary arrests, torture during suspect questioning and corruption. The State Department pointed out the courts’ “ineffectiveness” in settling land cases, which led to disputes in every province.
“The continued criminalization of defamation and disinformation and a broad interpretation of criminal incitement constrained freedom of expression,” according to the annual “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.”
“Members of the security forces reportedly committed arbitrary killings,” the report says. “Prison guards and police abused detainees, often to extract confessions, and prison conditions were harsh. Human rights monitors reported arbitrary arrests and prolonged pretrial detention. The government at times interfered with freedom of assembly. Corruption remained pervasive, governmental human rights bodies reportedly were ineffective, and discrimination and trafficking in men, women, and children persisted. Domestic violence and child abuse occurred, and education of children was inadequate. The government prosecuted officials who committed abuses, but impunity for corruption and other abuses persisted.”
Local rights workers say the report should be a call for the Cambodian government to enact changes that would improve the human rights climate, which has seen a backslide in recent years.
“If the government doesn’t want to do it, it is up to the people,” said Ou Virak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. That means telling political representatives they want a judicial system that works, among other demands, he said.
“This report should be considered by the government,” said Am Sam Ath, monitoring supervisor for the rights group Licadho. Cambodia’s leaders need to “find the means to tackle the issues, to avoid future criticism or accusations from the international community.”
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the report did not reflect the efforts of the government. “What has been reformed is not updated in the report,” he said.
The State Department report calls the deaths of environmentalist Chut Wutty and 14-year-old Heng Chantha evidence of “arbitrary or unlawful” killings in 2012.
The report notes severe beatings of suspects in detention, along with poor prison conditions that do not meet international standards. “Police officials committed abuses with impunity,” the report says.
The report also notes a general lack of respect by the government for judicial independence. “The courts were subject to influence and interference by the executive branch, and there was widespread corruption among judges, prosecutors, and court officials,” the report says. “At times the outcome of trials appeared predetermined.”
The report also notes a lack of respect for the principles of free speech and assembly, and ineffective implementation of transparency and anti-corruption laws. It also notes that local and international rights organizations “faced threats and harassment from local officials.”
Brad Adams, head of the Asia division at Human Rights Watch, said the government should investigate some of the findings of the report.
“The human rights situation in Cambodia remains very poor,” he said. “There are significant problems with the administration of justice, which is heavily politicized. When the government, particularly the prime minister, wants to arrest someone, the authorities just comply, and if they want to convict someone, such as Mam Sonando or people involved in the Boeunk Kak protest, the courts simply do what the politicians tell them to do.”
He called the State Department report “a little gentle” on some issues.