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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rights abuses mounting: Licadho

Rights abuses mounting: Licadho

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A police officer throws a chunk of concrete at protesting residents during a violent forced eviction in January 2012. Photograph: Meng Kimlong/Phnom Penh Post

Elected and appointed officials have been complicit in a catalogue of human rights abuses representing steadily mounting attacks against Cambodian citizens over the past two years, rights group Licadho said yesterday.

According to Attacks and Threats Against Human Rights Defenders in Cambodia, which covers 2010 to 2012 and was released to coincide with national celebrations of Interational Human Rights Day, the situation for human rights defenders has “soured dramatically”.

“Violence against activists is on the rise, key [human rights defenders] have been killed with impunity, and the courts have lost even the faintest semblance of impartiality,” the report reads. “The year 2012 has been particularly bad.”

The report profiled 125 cases of threats or attacks – some fatal – perpetrated against human rights defenders between January 2010 and October 2012.

“In some cases we don’t know the direct perpetrator,” Licadho director Naly Pilorge told the Post.

Among the emerging trends cited in the report is that: “Armed military and police forces have also been directly complicit in violating the rights of human rights defenders, either in their own capacity or on behalf of private actors.”

“Perpetrators also continued to escape justice,” the report adds. “Cambodia’s notorious culture of impunity persists, and is particularly problematic when a case involves human rights defenders.”

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the government welcomed credible criticism to help promote the role of NGOs, media and the government in Cambodia.

“But these allegations [are] from people in their office. In the field we [the government] are very active in solving problems,” Siphan said.

“A report must be scientific, with quality-control and evaluated and if they say human rights issues get worse – show us specifically when and from which year and the increases and what kind of rights.”

“We would appreciate it if people came up with proof [of government complicity],” he continued.

When given an example of former Bavet Governor Chhouk Bandith, who has yet to be prosecuted and sentenced by a court for allegedly firing live rounds into a garment factory protest, shooting one woman through the chest and injuring three others in February, Siphan said that individual cases required individual complaints.

Siphan advocated using the mechanisms already put in place by the government and said: “If you don’t like something, lodge a complaint against that court or that judge.”

“That’s the process we have to do to strengthen the system.”

Far from strengthening, the “system” is deteriorating into chaos, according to Licadho.

The group highlighted the “blatantly political” verdict and 20-year prison sentence against independent radio station owner Mam Sonando, the seemingly “secret” charges against Adhoc senior investigator Chan Soveth, and the detention of 13 Boeung Kak community representatives as evidence of a judicial system that is being wielded as a weapon by the government.

The murders of 14-year-old Heng Chantha, environmental activist Chut Wutty, Battambang land rights activist Pich Sophon and journalist Hang Serei Oudom, who worked on illegal logging issues in Ratanakkiri, and the subsequent absence of any thorough investigations or criminal charges underscore “notorious impunity and corruption”, the group argues.

“The government has passed laws and signed treaties and is under an obligation to implement them,” Pilorge said yesterday.

“The Cambodian constitution is one of the most progressive and everyone wants checks and balances,” she said. “It is important for investors, for young people, for home owners – it is no one’s interest that this continue.”

Kirth Chantharith, spokesman for the National Police, said that the report – which argues that police use violence to threaten the human right activists – is baseless.

“What has been raised has no evidence,” he insisted.

Kheng Tito, spokesman of the National Military Police, couldn’t be reached for comment yesterday.

To contact the reporters on this story: Bridget Di Certo at bridget.dicerto@phnompenhpost.com
May Titthara at titthara.may@phnompenhpost.com

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