Prime Minister Hun Sen took to Facebook on the 71st International Human Rights Day on Tuesday to remind Cambodians that the rights and freedoms they currently enjoyed came from liberation from the genocidal Pol Pot regime on January 7, 1979.
He said under the Khmer Rouge from 1975-79, people had no rights or freedoms, not even the rights to survive, eat, receive medical treatment, profess a religion, pursue education or enjoy freedom of expression.
“The genocidal Pol Pot regime revoked all rights and freedoms and forced young, adult and old people to overwork, with many becoming sick without access to medical treatment and doctors.
“This led to the death of more than three million people in just three years, eight months and 20 days,” Hun Sen said.
He said the current rights and freedoms allowed people to live peacefully and have jobs. They were able to practice their religion and had the right to freely elect their leaders. Such rights and freedoms had also seen Cambodia develop.
This year’s International Human Rights Day focused largely on the theme Youth Stand Up for Human Rights and highlighted the leadership role of young people and their potential.
In celebration of the Human Rights Day, 21 Cambodian human rights groups, unions and civil society organisations gathered at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district to express the challenges they felt they faced.
“Cambodian citizens still cannot fully exercise their rights with regards to expression regarding public and political issues, as well as public gatherings,” said Meas Sarath, the chair of the board of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC).
Obstacles, he said, were still faced regarding press freedoms, civil rights and the right to participate in leadership and the development of natural resources.
The director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights Chak Sopheap said that since 2017, government officials had not paid full attention to fundamental human rights and freedoms.
Violations of the freedoms of expression and association had taken place during a crackdown on members and activists of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), she said.
“With regards to the issue of land rights, [land issues] have taken place and spread throughout the country. It remains a concern because the mechanisms with which to find justice for those affected are still limited,” Sopheap said.
Meanwhile, the CHRAC and 21 unions including civil society groups from across the Kingdom said they have prepared recommendations to be submitted to the government for review to improve the respect for human rights and democracy in Cambodia.