Human Rights Watch says that 2014 was one of Cambodia’s worst years in recent history in terms of human rights violations, citing “killings by security forces, arrests of activists and opposition politicians, summary trials and crackdowns on peaceful protest”.
The Cambodia section of its World Report 2015 also cited the government’s alleged use of the judicial system to silence activists, critics, trade unionists and opposition politicians.
HRW said that “the police, prosecutors, and courts pursued at least 90 politically motivated cases” last year, sentencing at least 44 people to prison after “unfair trials in which no credible evidence of wrongdoing was presented against them”.
At the same time “the security forces continued to enjoy total impunity for current and past human rights violations”.
The government has denied using the courts in a political fashion.
HRW’s Asia director Brad Adams was recently singled out for criticism by Prime Minister Hun Sen, who accused him of being unbalanced.
“Of course, I have made mistakes . . . but one has to balance [what has been done] wrong and right . . . you have to talk a bit more properly, not [say] everything is bad, [like] Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch,” he said earlier this month.
Chak Sopheap, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, agreed that the human rights situation had “deteriorated markedly” last year.
But she also cited encouraging developments, including unprecedented levels of public protests calling for change and newfound political dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition.
Mak Sambath, president of the government’s Human Rights Committee, said it was unfair for HRW to say last year was one of the worst for rights violations.
Referring to a crackdown on garment worker protests in January that saw at least five people killed by authorities, Sambath said the government had implemented law and order.
“As you see, during those demonstrations, a clinic was completely destroyed . . . and some of the roads were blocked by protesters which affected the rights of others, who could not get to hospitals or schools on time,” he said.
“Therefore the government has to [act] to ensure stability and public order. The government has to favour all people in the country, not just individual’s rights like Human Rights Watch.”