A statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said a US State Department human rights award should be given to a person who advocates for peace, national harmony and reconciliation, not a lawbreaker.

The statement came the day after the US state department named detained Cambodian trade union leader Chhim Sithar as one of the 10 global recipients of its annual Human Rights Defender Award.

In the February 2 statement, ministry said the award did not represent the wishes of the majority of the Cambodian people. It also emboldened certain forces, who were prepared to exploit the situation and promote their hidden agendas, under the guise of human rights and democracy.

“An honour such as this usually recognises advocates for, among other things, peace, national harmony and reconciliation, disarmament, the eradication of racial discrimination, violence and hatred, or any other accomplishment which is in the best interests of society,” it added.

Sithar, the president of the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees (LRSU) at integrated casino resort NagaWorld, was arrested on November 26 at Phnom Penh International Airport and placed in pre-trial detention after returning from a 12-day trip to Australia.

Sithar was first arrested in January last year – on charges of incitement to commit a crime – in relation to a strike she led. She was released on bail in March, but a court order instructed her not to travel abroad without court approval.

The statement explained that the legal woes of Sithar were neither about human rights nor labour disputes, but her flagrant violation of the ban on leaving the country while under court supervision.

“If a person is bailed, but deliberately violates the conditions of his or her judicial supervision, the investigating judge has the right to return them to pre-trial detention, as is stipulated in article 230 of Cambodia’s Criminal Procedure Code,” the statement said.

“This prize is not a means of legal defence in any court in the world. The best defence is to attend court hearings and present legal arguments and concrete evidence that demonstrate the innocence of the accused,” it added.