Less than two weeks after a major rights group lambasted the US’s training of Cambodia’s “abusive armed forces”, allegedly incriminating photographs have been removed from the official Facebook page of the joint training exercise.
On May 20, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement hitting out at US forces for providing “training that would assist Cambodia’s military in government crackdowns on the political opposition and civil society activists”. The group also suggested that Angkor Sentinel 2014 may have been in violation of US law, something the US Embassy categorically denied.
Days after the statement, Angkor Sentinel’s official Facebook page was taken down. Now back up and running, the page is missing the images identified by HRW as evidence of direct military training.
One of the photographs that used to appear on the page, under the caption “a proper vehicle search technique in an urban environment”, showed a Cambodian soldier stopping a vehicle by standing in front of it with his assault rifle aimed at the windshield.
At the time, US Embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh told the Post that such photos showed “Cambodians being trained to respond properly to the threat of improvised explosive devices, a persistent danger in Cambodia’s peacekeeping operations throughout the world”.
This week, McIntosh reiterated his defence of the training.
“All Cambodian individuals and military units that participate in Angkor Sentinel exercises are thoroughly vetted in compliance with the Leahy Amendment, which requires the Department of State to ensure there is no credible information suggesting participating individuals or military units have committed gross violations of human rights,” he said by email.
When asked why the photographs were removed, McIntosh said that the US Army Pacific, which he says manages the page, “routinely updates its website platforms”.
US Army Pacific did not respond to requests for comment.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia division, said he hoped the photographs’ removal meant the US had decided to investigate the training.
“US military-to-military programs are supposed to inculcate human rights values rather than teach partners how to more efficiently abuse human rights – and I expect they were embarrassed that some of the photos showed that the training was hardly living up to that principle,” he said.