Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Unveiling the true face of Human Rights Watch

Unveiling the true face of Human Rights Watch

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
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. Hong Menea

Unveiling the true face of Human Rights Watch

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


  • Hong Kong firm done buying Coke Cambodia

    Swire Coca-Cola Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed Swire Pacific Ltd, on November 25 announced that it had completed the acquisition of The Coca-Cola Co’s bottling business in Cambodia, as part of its ambitions to expand into the Southeast Asian market. Swire Coca-Cola affirmed

  • Cambodia's Bokator now officially in World Heritage List

    UNESCO has officially inscribed Cambodia’s “Kun Lbokator”, commonly known as Bokator, on the World Heritage List, according to Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Phoeurng Sackona in her brief report to Prime Minister Hun Sen on the night of November 29. Her report, which was

  • NagaWorld union leader arrested at airport after Australia trip

    Chhim Sithar, head of the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees at NagaWorld integrated casino resort, was arrested on November 26 at Phnom Penh International Airport and placed in pre-trial detention after returning from a 12-day trip to Australia. Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge

  • Angkor Beer, 30 Years of Prestige and Still Counting

    Let’s celebrate 30 years of prestige with Angkor Beer. In this 2022, Angkor Beer is 30 years old and has been staying with Cambodian hearts in all circumstances. Head of core beer portfolio, EmYuthousaid, “We have been with Cambodians for three decades now. We, ANGKOR Beer, pride

  • Sub-Decree approves $30M for mine clearance

    The Cambodian government established the ‘Mine-Free Cambodia 2025 Foundation’, and released an initial budget of $30 million. Based on the progress of the foundation in 2023, 2024 and 2025, more funds will be added from the national budget and other sources. In a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen

  • Two senior GDP officials defect to CPP

    Two senior officials of the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP) have asked to join the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), after apparently failing to forge a political alliance in the run-up to the 2023 general election. Yang Saing Koma, chairman of the GDP board, and Lek Sothear,