Phnom Penh – Cambodia’s human rights credentials were tarnished in 2008 by government restrictions on public demonstrations, intimidation of journalists and forced evictions of residents from valuable land, according to a report released on Tuesday by a leading advocacy group. The Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association’s annual report said the country’s human rights record had improved during the 16 years since the transition to democracy, but criticized the government, police and military for their roles in a range of disputes throughout the year.
It said the government had allowed more public demonstrations than in any other year, but added that authorities had “worked to restrict freedom of assembly.””Of 155 peaceful strikes and demonstrations that took place, 108 (70 per cent) were suppressed forcibly by the armed forces,” it said. “The authorities often refused to authorize demonstrations, or delayed in granting authorization for demonstrations shortly before they were due to take place, then unauthorized strikes and demonstrations were suppressed by force.”The report accused the military of becoming increasingly involved in land disputes, which saw tens of thousands of residents forcibly evicted from land earmarked for development throughout the year. It said the number of evictions involving the military rose from 40 in 2007 to 125 in 2008. Media freedom was restricted throughout 2008, the report said, with state-run media outlets continuing to be controlled by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. “All state radio stations and private are strictly controlled by the ruling party. Due to these restrictions the public was often unaware of public events organized by non-ruling political parties and some NGOs,” it said. “Journalists were subject to various forms of threats throughout the year, and in one case a journalist was shot dead.”Human rights workers involved in land disputes were subject to personal threats, the report said, and community representatives were “subject to accusations of incitement.””Such accusations from government officials were designed to intimidate workers and activists from providing legal advice and assistance to victims in land disputes with private companies and powerful people,” the report said. It also expressed concern over a lack of transparency and accusations of corruption at Cambodia’s UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal, where five former leaders of the genocidal regime are currently facing trial for crimes against humanity. “Victims of the Khmer Rouge expressed frustration at the slow progress towards trials, with the expected start of the trial of [former S-21 torture facility chief] ‘Duch’ being pushed back to February 17, 2009,” it said. The number of local and international human rights and civil society organizations in Cambodia has grown into the hundreds over the past decade, and many have attracted the ire of government officials for becoming involved in disputes between authorities and citizens. Government spokesmen were unavailable for comment on Tuesday.