The US State Department released its annual global human rights report on Friday, highlighting alleged rights abuses in Cambodia and prompting a government spokesman to dub the report an “attack”.
“Corruption was endemic throughout all segments of society and branches of government. There were reports police, prosecutors, investigating judges, and presiding judges received bribes,” the report reads, asserting that the judiciary was particularly subject to corruption and political influence.
The report also alleges that the government occasionally engaged in “arbitrary arrest and detention” and that police officials “committed abuses with impunity”, while a section on torture describes “credible reports military and police officials used physical and psychological abuse, and, on occasion, severely beat criminal detainees, particularly during interrogation”.
In response, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan took to Facebook to slam the report as a “misinterpretation” of the reality in Cambodia, once again invoking US President Donald Trump’s own perceived shortcomings on the human rights front.
Claiming that widespread protests against Trump were an indicator of “injustice in American society and racism”, Siphan questioned the US’s own commitment to “human rights principles”.
Siphan said the report was an attack on Cambodia’s national sovereignty, a move he claimed violated Trump’s own promises. During his Congressional address on February 28, Trump said: “America respects the right of all nations to chart their own path. My job is not to represent the world.”
US Embassy spokesman Jay Raman yesterday wanted to let the report speak for itself, saying only that it was “compiled yearly, at the direction of Congress, and that it is global in scope”.
Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said the report was biased. “Some reports by NGOs support the Western world because they receive funds from them. Those reports do not reflect the real situation in Cambodia,” Malin said.
In the past week, three different CPP officials have referred to Trump while justifying positions that have been criticised as violating human rights.
“There seems to be an organized attempt by officials of the Hun Sen government to legitimize repression and human rights violations in Cambodia while rejecting US criticisms of Cambodian authoritarianism by referencing President Donald Trump as soft on these issues himself,” Dr Paul Chambers of the Institute of South East Asian Affairs said via email.
Chambers warned that America’s position as a global leader could be weakened by this perception, but also said the CPP’s recent public rebukes of the US could simply be pre-election posturing in an attempt to paint the party as “a nationalist protector”.
Despite himself referencing Trump twice in the past week, Siphan said that invoking Trump was not an official party strategy.
“The way I see it, we have to respect each other. Every nation has its own culture, which is why US foreign policy is so arrogant,” he told The Post.
Siphan, who holds dual Cambodian-US citizenship, then moved to disassociate America’s human rights issues from Trump specifically, saying the US has always had a problem with racism.
“Not even the US is perfect ... but they accuse Cambodia of not having human rights,” he added.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MECH DARA