ASYLUM regulations adopted by the government last year are in breach of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, to which Cambodia is a party, the group Human Rights Watch asserted in an open letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday.
The letter is critical of the deportation of 20 Uighur asylum seekers in December – which came two days after the regulations were signed by Hun Sen – and calls for the government to bring its policies in line with international law.
“Cambodia’s new regulations allow the government far too much leeway to deny refugee status and to forcibly return people who fear persecution,” Bill Frelick, HRW’s refugee policy director, said in press statement also released Thursday.
Accompanying the letter is a point-by-point analysis of Cambodia’s Sub-decree on Procedures for Examination, Recognition, and Provision of Refugee or Asylum Status for Aliens that outlines concerns related to 15 articles, many of which, HRW contends, contravene the UN convention.
“The sub-decree provides Cambodian authorities numerous and overlapping bases for refusal of refugee status or removal with insufficient safeguards to protect against the wrongful removal of people with protection concerns,” the rights group says in its analysis, which places particular emphasis on the sub-decree’s definition of a refugee as someone who faces a “serious” fear of persecution.
“By specifying serious persecution, the sub-decree suggests that less-than-serious persecution could be grounds for denying refugee status, thus creating a higher standard for refugee status than the Convention requires,” the analysis states.
The HRW analysis is yet another example of international criticism of both the new refugee regulations and the Uighur deportation. Rights groups have claimed that the deportees – who are believed to have witnessed clashes between Chinese security forces and Uighur demonstrators in Xinjiang province last summer – were likely to face torture and possible execution upon their return to China.
Two days after the Uighurs were deported, China and Cambodia inked aid agreements worth US$1.2 billion, sparking speculation from some commentators that last-minute changes to the sub-decree – which strengthened the government’s power to deport asylum-seekers – had been rushed through in a bid to please Beijing.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said Thursday that he had not yet had time to read the HRW letter in detail, and that legal experts would be consulted on the analysis. He said the refugee sub-decree had been formulated “within the framework of the national sovereignty of Cambodia”.
Despite the point-by-point analysis, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said the HRW letter had failed to specify which articles of the sub-decree needed amending. “They are a big organisation, but they do not know how to make such a statement,” he said. “They failed to mention which points require the amendment from the government.”