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NGOs see gap in rights record

A lesbian couple joins a gay pride event in Phnom Penh in May
A lesbian couple joins a gay pride event in Phnom Penh in May. The CCHR yesterday released a report condemning Cambodia’s lack of sexual and reproductive health rights. SCOTT HOWES

NGOs see gap in rights record

A group of NGOs condemned rampant abuses of sexual and reproductive health rights in Cambodia last week, just days before the government submitted a human rights progress report to the United Nations.

The Cambodian Center for Human Rights, in cooperation with the Asia Pacific Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS and the Sexual Right Initiative, made public on Thursday a joint statement sent to the United Nations Periodic Review as an addendum to the human rights record submitted by the government yesterday.

Cambodia was last part of the periodic review process, which analyses the human rights records of UN member states every four years, in 2009.

None of the 91 recommendations accepted by Cambodia during the last review addressed sexual and reproductive health rights or gender discrimination.

“These issues are not typically considered human rights priorities when it comes to Cambodia,” Nuon Sidara, project coordinator of sexual orientation and gender identity at the CCHR, said.

The joint report seeks to put the topic back on the review’s agenda and faults the state for an array of sexual and reproductive health problems.

“Substantive improvements with regards to the rights of women, sex workers, LGBT Cambodians and people living with HIV will require concrete action by the government,” Sidara said.

According to the report, health centres are chronically understaffed and under-funded, with only 43 per cent meeting minimum operational guidelines.

The report also found heinous hate crimes committed against LGBT people, including gangs forcing sex on transgender individuals, and families believing they can cure the “mental disease” of homosexuality by throwing water on the victim.

HIV-positive women were also found to frequently encounter discrimination and misinformed health professionals – a significant number of women interviewed had been encouraged or even coerced into sterilisation.

Despite the bleak situation painted in the report, some rights groups say conditions are improving.

“If you compare how many more women know today that we have rights. . . there has been progress. But what remains problematic is that women continue struggling for access to information,” Ros Sopheap, executive director of Gender and Development in Cambodia, said.

The Ministry of Education, which was criticised in the report for failing to successfully implement comprehensive sexual education, defended its position.

“We have launched a new curriculum and given the manual to schools, so what do they want us to do?” said Minister of Education Hang Chuon Naron. “It is part of the culture that is hard to teach, and we cannot regulate culture.”

The Ministry of Health could not be reached and the Ministry of Women declined to comment. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MOM KUNTHEAR AND AMELIA WOODSIDE

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