The United States has “never claimed to be perfect” in terms of upholding human rights and Prime Minister Hun Sen has every right to offer criticisms of the country, one of the superpower’s top Asia diplomats said yesterday.
Speaking with the Post as he wrapped up a two-day visit to Cambodia before departing for Vietnam, Scot Marciel, the US State Department’s principal deputy assistant secretary for East Asia and the Pacific, responded to comments from Hun Sen last week that accused the US of double standards in relation to its handling of recent racially charged protests in Ferguson, Missouri.
In an August 21 speech, the premier said the US had been quick to accuse Cambodia of human rights violations when the government used security forces to “control” protests but condoned heavy-handed responses on its own turf.
“We’ve never claimed to be perfect. And we’re always working to strengthen our own system,” Marciel said, noting, however, that there had been much debate and criticism in the US about the authorities' handling of the Ferguson protests, including calls for transparent investigations.
“So again, we are not immune from problems. I think it’s more [about] how you respond when there are problems. And I think our system is showing that we are very focused on it and there is a lot of attention on it, and very healthy debate about it.”
Marciel also responded to criticism from Human Rights Watch of US-sponsored military training in Cambodia, saying that although the US was not “locked in” to supporting the Cambodian military, it was confident it was not engaging with units “credibly accused of human rights violations”.
“What we’ll do and what we do on a regular basis, wherever we are looking at training – and this is true around the world – whenever we’re looking at training a particular unit, whether it’s military or police, we always do a review” as required by US law, he said.
Following last year’s disputed election, the US called for an independent review of election irregularities and refrained from congratulating Hun Sen, but Marciel yesterday said that while it backed a stronger democracy and reforms, what happens next depends on Cambodians.
“This is up to the people of Cambodia; it’s not for us to be judges from outside.”
Marciel also rejected claims that US support of pro-democracy NGOs in Cambodia, including the National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute, amounted to sponsoring regime change.
“Around the world, we stand up for democracy, and as Secretary [of State John] Kerry said, we don’t make any apologies about this. But we don’t take sides in partisan debates. We’re not on this side or that side, or advocating regime change in Cambodia. Not at all.”
After Marciel met with Foreign Ministry Secretary of State Ouch Borith yesterday, Borith said the pair had pledged to restart official bilateral dialogue, which has not occurred for some years, in 2015.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VONG SOKHENG