EVICTIONS, limits on freedom of expression, and violence against women were the main human rights concerns in Cambodia in 2009, according to a global report issued by Amnesty International.
The annual report, released Wednesday, states that although Cambodia has signed a raft of international treaties relating to human rights, there were many gaps in implementation – especially relating to the judiciary and housing rights.
“Forced evictions continued to affect thousands of families across the country, predominantly people living in poverty,” the report states, estimating that at least 26 forced evictions displaced around 27,000 people in the country last year.
The report highlights the case of the Group 78 community, which was forcibly evicted from Tonle Bassac commune last July, and the eviction of HIV-positive families from Borei Keila.
MEDIA PLAY A VERY IMPORTANT ROLE, BUT INSULTS ... DO NOT HAVE A PROPER PLACE.
It also states that “a wave of legal actions against housing rights defenders, journalists and other critical voices” had led to a “stifling” of freedom of expression.
Examples cited include the defamation and disinformation cases pursued against Hang Chakra, publisher of the opposition-aligned Khmer Machas Srok newspaper, and Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua, who is still fighting a protracted legal battle with Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“This pattern of abuse, including of the criminal justice system, is clearly on the increase, and has had a very negative impact on the right to freedom of expression,” said Brittis Edman, Amnesty’s Cambodia researcher.
Other concerns raised in the report were the barriers to prosecuting rape cases in Cambodia, and the government’s controversial deportation of 20 ethnic Uighurs to China in December.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, acknowledged that evictions had taken place, but said many of those affected had been living illegally on public land. He said last year’s passage of the Law on Expropriation had established a legal framework for such cases.
He added that as far as the Mu Sochua and Hang Chakra cases were concerned, their right to make “insults” had to be balanced against the right of the people to “accurate information”.
“The people have a right to receive honest information, so they should not abuse their right by releasing dishonest or inaccurate information,” he said. “Media play a very important role, but insults and harassment do not have a proper place.”
The report comes ahead of next week’s Cambodia Development Cooperation Forum (CDCF) meetings, when donors will assess the government’s reform progress and make pledges of development aid for the coming 18-month period.
Edman said foreign donors should take the opportunity to press the government on rights issues.
“The human rights situation should be a yardstick for anyone gauging the development of Cambodia – both the government and its international development partners,” she said.
“As the space to voice criticism of the government and the authorities, or protest decisions linked to the elite, is shrinking, it is crucial that donors make use of their access to dialogue with the government to discuss the justice gap, and how that affects people’s human rights.”