As the world marked international Human Rights Day on December 10, Cambodian Human Rights Committee (CHRC) officials said the human rights situation in Cambodia is relatively good compared to many other countries in the region and the world.
Officials made the remarks as some civil society groups claimed that respect for human rights in the Kingdom declined significantly this year because of “government restrictions” on fundamental freedoms.
CHRC president Keo Remy noted on December 10 that the human rights outlook in many other countries in the region, as well as across the world, is relatively poor due to various ongoing crisis situations such as wars, internal conflicts and violence, and instability due to natural disasters.
Cambodia, meanwhile, is peaceful and its people are free.
“I observe that wars continue in some places year after year, as do internal conflicts, disasters like floods and landslides, and other epidemics. Religious conflicts have also increased and racial discrimination still occurs in some of the richest countries, unlike Cambodia, which is better today in all of these areas,” he said.
According to Remy, war is a dire problem because it often causes the loss of fundamental freedoms for people all over the world, especially in the countries directly affected by the fighting.
Yemen, for example, has more than two million children at risk of malnutrition, whereas Cambodia has made efforts to ensure that no one is left starving to death.
As for Covid-19, he said the government – together with the Cambodian Red Cross, youths, the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, humanitarian groups and all of Cambodia’s leaders – have joined hands to contain the pandemic.
This was also the case in regards to the floods that struck parts of Cambodia this year.
“It is important for the Cambodian government to promote the right to life. In addition to this, the government has expanded the budget to provide cash assistance to poor people affected by Covid-19, in the amount of $25 million every month,” he said.
Remy added that Cambodian law is in some respects quite progressive in that the Constitution bans the death penalty. Chapter 3 of the Constitution, he said, extensively covers human rights issues.
Furthermore, Cambodia has continued to welcome the presence of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights when they visit every two years along with the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights.
However, Licadho deputy director Am Sam Ath said on December 10 that human rights have declined in Cambodia in 2020 compared with the previous year.
Sam Ath said while Covid-19 is a global crisis that prompts the government and Cambodian people to work together to contain the pandemic by following the principles of the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation, human rights issues cannot be completely ignored.
“Human rights haven’t been fully respected in Cambodia, especially since the beginning of 2020. The people’s basic freedoms have been restricted, such as the right to gather or freedom of peaceful assembly.
“There have been crackdowns and arrests. Freedom of expression is limited and so is freedom of organisation because associations and unions are restricted,” he said, adding that freedom of information is also limited.
Soeng Sen Karuna, the senior investigator for local rights group Adhoc, echoed the concerns, citing frequent violence and recent arrests of protesters.
“We see that online expression on social media needs to be dealt with, and the rights of political activists have been violently suppressed in many cases,” he said, adding that the government had not made sufficient efforts to prevent this.
Kem Sokha, former president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), said Cambodia can have true peace and national unity only if all Cambodians have their fundamental rights respected.
“In order to ensure that everyone in a society enjoys basic freedoms and rights, they need to guarantee and respect our civil and political rights,” he said in a Facebook post on December 10.