Adhoc reports jumps in landrights, trafficking abuses despite US watch list upgrade
CAMBODIA'S human rights' record took a dive in 2008, local rights group Adhoc said Tuesday, singling out a spike in land-based disputes and a marked rise in human trafficking.
The rights group, in its 2008 year-end review, reported a more than threefold jump over the previous year, from 40 to 125, in land disputes in which members of the armed forces were implicated in illegal conduct.
Responding to the charge, Cheam Yeap, a senior lawmaker with the Cambodian People's Party, said "some of the report is true, but most of it is exaggerated". He did say, however, the government was in the midst of a crackdown on abuses of power by military officials regardless of their rank, adding that "the government doesn't care how many stars they have. If they break the law in a land dispute, they will be fired."
Army Commander-in-Chief Pol Saroeun told the Post he was unfamiliar with abuses of power in land disputes by members of the armed forces, but said the army would investigate cases highlighted in the Adhoc report and levy an "administrative fine" on any offenders they found.
"No one has special privileges to avoid punishment if they violate people's rights and confiscate people's land," he said. "Anyone who does this is a criminal."
Adhoc also lashed out at the government and courts for aiding and abetting private developers, saying the interests of companies had increasingly trumped the rights of everyday citizens.
"The court system remained heavily influenced by private companies and powerful individuals, and was used increasingly to arrest and detain complainants in land conflicts," Adhoc said.
The group reported that it had received 25 complaints of large-scale evictions affecting more than 46,000 people.
"Across the country, only 409 hectares of land were provided to evicted residents compared to more than 225,000 hectares set aside as economic land concessions to court developers, the group said, adding that compensation - when offered - was deeply insufficient.
Although the US government acknowledged improvement in Cambodia's efforts to curb human trafficking last year, women and children here are being traded across the border in ever greater numbers, Adhoc said, citing a nearly 40 percent increase in the number of related cases it received last year.
Embassy spokesman John Johnson did not comment on whether US officials have observed backsliding in Cambodia's human trafficking record, but explained the rank they assigned to Cambodia "is based on the extent of host government action to combat trafficking rather than the size of the problem".
Adhoc also flagged allegations of corruption and government interference in the UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal. Germany indicated Monday it will stop new funds to the court until corruption allegations are addressed.