Defenders of human rights are subject to threats, intimidation, anonymous harassment,
assault and arbitrary imprisonment in their line of work, a new report states.
The briefing paper on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in Cambodia was prepared
by local NGO Licadho to be released on December 10, International Human Rights Day.
The report details more than 30 incidents over the past five years which "reveal
a clear pattern of intimidation and threats against human rights defenders in Cambodia,
which raises serious concerns about the long-term stability of human rights work".
Perpetrators of threats included police, military, commune officials, district governors
and court officials.
NGO workers often reported that they were followed and feel under close scrutiny,
a situation the document noted was institutionalized with the creation in 1997 of
the government's NGO Monitoring Commission.
United Nations human rights defenders have also been subjected to abuses, including
the beating of a UN staff member while monitoring a demonstration in 1998.
But Om Yentieng, the Prime Minister's advisor on human rights, rejected the report.
"Licadho always issues reports," he said. "What they have said is
without evidence; it is issued with a political intention."
Of particular concern to the report's authors were statements made by Prime Minister
Hun Sen in December 2000, shortly after the Cambodian Freedom Fighters attack on
Hun Sen accused NGOs of "hiding terrorists" and threatened to handcuff
human rights workers "without acknowledgment that you are a rights worker".
"If you get involved you'll be arrested," the PM was reported as saying.
"The menacing tone of this language, coming from the highest government official
in the nation, establishes the legitimacy of threats to human rights defenders, further
endangering the threats to these persons," the report stated.
Other high profile cases of intimidation included two Licadho employees who were
arrested in 1998 while monitoring demonstrations against a toxic spill in Sihanoukville.
Eight months later the pair were acquitted, but international observers were critical
of the lack of evidence and procedural errors in the case.
It warned that intimidation could deter human rights workers from investigating particular
cases, and foster distrust between rights advocates and government officials.
The report calls on the government to accept the legitimacy of human rights NGOs,
take immediate steps to prosecute perpetrators of alleged violence, and prohibit
the intimidation of defenders.
Om Yentieng said any wrongdoing would not be tolerated by the government and would
be punished under the law.