Human rights are for humanity, not for Human Rights Watch (HRW). Human rights must be understood and approached based on the context and the stage of nation building and state building. Above all, human rights must not be politised the way HRW has done.

To understand the nature of HRW, we need to understand its roots. Founded in 1978 during the Cold War, HRW was initially named Helsinki Watch to monitor the former Soviet Union’s implementation of the 1975 Helsinki Accords and to examine and criticise “crimes” committed by the former Soviet Union and its allies, which has led to the long-standing cold-war ideology carried out by the organisation disguised under human rights organisation. It is founded based on political ideology and propaganda. Clearly, HRW was the by-product of the Cold War whose raison d’etre would have ceased after the war ended.

In Cambodia, HRW has provoked political and social toxic environments through consistently fabricating misleading information and groundless attacks against Cambodia since the early 1990s. Truth be told, it fails to recognise the achievements made by the Cambodian government in uplifting millions of people from poverty. The rights to live and livelihoods are the most important human rights above all. We cannot talk about human rights if the people are hungry and their livelihoods are under threat. HRW also intentionally overlooks the role of the government in managing the Covid-19 pandemic. The vaccination rate in Cambodia is remarkable, with more than eight million people out of the targeted adult population of 10 million having been vaccinated. All Cambodians and foreigners in Cambodia are fully entitled to vaccination, without discrimination based on political orientation or race. Those are human rights that HRW should have reported too. HRW should note that without an effective governance, we cannot manage the pandemic crisis and effectively roll out mass and swift vaccination.

It is crystal clear that HRW’s core members such as its Asia director Brad Adams and his deputy Phil Robertson have had a long history of personal grudge against Cambodian leaders, particular Prime Minister Hun Sen, whom they have accused of violating Cambodians’ rights without presenting credible facts or evidence. Adams’ ambition is to bring down the legitimate government by provoking people’s discontent with and distrust in the government. He has tried to amplify and exaggerate or even fabricate the political, socio-economic and environmental situation in Cambodia.

To this end, HRW has fabricated numerous reports to mislead international and national public opinions on Cambodia and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). Lately, on August 10, HRW released a 137-paged entitled Underwater: Human Rights Impacts of a China Belt and Road Project in Cambodia as part of its decade-long campaign to smear Cambodia’s reputation and undermine the steadfast efforts by the government to steer the country towards peace, stability and prosperity.

The report claimed that the construction of the Lower Sesan 2 dam has displaced about 5,000 indigenous people living near the site and that the dam has negatively affected the fishery ecosystem along the entire Mekong River basin.

With its long, troubling history of selective evidence gathering, lack of verifiable information, political bias, and highly ideological analysis of rights issues, HRW has unfortunately deviated from its stated objective of creating an “undeniable record of human rights records” and become nothing but an extension of the post-Cold War civilising mission trying to sow public discontent and distrust in various parts of the world.

Judging based on its chronically questionable credibility, shady financial history, naked political bias, and dubious research methodology, HRW’s latest report on the Lower Sesan 2 dam should be dismissed for two reasons.

First, HRW claims that it interviewed 60 people in its preparation of the report, which constitutes only about one per cent of the 5,000-population sample it claims to have been affected by the dam. This sample size is too small and inadequate to be generalised in this kind of in-depth environmental study. Moreover, HRW failed to interview the vast majority of locals who have received fair compensation for their relocations and whose livelihoods have benefited from the construction of 12 schools, 12 kindergartens and numerous other public facilities created by the dam project.

Second, although HRW claims to be an independent NGO that does not take any funding from national governments, it was previously exposed to this hypocrisy when, according to NGO Monitor, it took $987,818 funding from Oxfam Novib from 2007 to 2008. Oxfam Novib receives most of its finance from the Dutch government. Likewise, HRW executive director Kenneth Roth reportedly accepted a $470,000 donation from a Middle Eastern estate tycoon in exchange for not advocating against the troubling treatments of the LGBTQ community in that region in 2020.

Suos Yara is a member of the National Assembly