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Act on rights abuses: group

Regional body says officials changing subject after report.

THE Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has called on the government to address documented rights abuses, arguing that attacks on groups researching human rights are being used to detract attention from its own lack of compliance with international human rights obligations.

"Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government should be reminded that Cambodia is bound by its international human rights obligations under the agreements concluded in Paris in 1991 to end the war in their country," the Hong Kong-based rights group said in a statement Wednesday.

The US State Department's annual human rights report for Cambodia, released in February, detailed a list of rights abuses including extrajudicial killings, forced land evictions, arbitrary arrests and restrictions on the freedom of the press.

The report drew a harsh rebuke from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which released a statement March 13 questioning the political motivations of the report and accusing the US of hypocrisy over its alleged torture of detainees at secret jails inside Thailand.

 But the AHRC said the ministry's response, and comments made the following week by Hun Sen, who said NGOs were "working only for salaries" and "fabricat[ing] stories", posed a serious threat to human rights NGOs and their freedom to operate in the Kingdom.

"Criticism based on the discovery of what is wrong is simply an exercise of the right to freedom of expression, and this right is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed and protected by the [Constitution]," the statement said.

Thun Saray, president of Cambodian rights group Adhoc, agreed the government should "recognise the truth" about human rights violations and address the issues highlighted in the US government report.

"Not every report is perfect," he said. "But I think if the government denies every report issued, the people will not have a lot of confidence in the seriousness of the government to tackle human rights violations."

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