PHNOM PENH: On September 12, eight civil society organizations, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development and Amnesty International, submitted a letter to the 54th session of the UN’s Human Rights Council, urging that a resolution be adopted to ensure that the human rights situation in Cambodia is closely monitored. The letter said, “The Council should send a clear message to newly appointed Prime Minister Hun Manet and the government that there is a cost for continuing the ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s (CPP’s) past systematic approaches to silencing the media and targeting dissenting voices.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded on September 14, singling out the HRW, one of the eight signatories on the letter, for “inaccurate, biased, and misleading narratives” and highlighting criticisms of the HRW from fellow human rights activists. The press statement did not mention any of the other seven organizations that signed the letter demanding action from the UN on what they agree is a “continual decline in the overall situation of human rights in Cambodia” following the July elections and the lead-up to them in which the letter states, “The government engaged in serious attacks on political opposition in the lead-up to the elections, with violent rhetoric, and arbitrary arrests and detention of political activists.”
The ministry refuted claims of an unfair election, repeating its narrative that, “The election with 18 competing political parties underscored Cambodia's democratic maturity, with an impressive voter participation rate of nearly 85%. This record turnout is a testament to the citizens' trust in the electoral process and their rejection of calls for electoral boycotts by the extremist politicians.” Political opposition credits the high voter turnout to threats and intimidation, however, including a new law that banned those who did not vote, or even discourage voting in the July election from running for office or voting in future elections.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs says the HRW is biased, citing a 2014 letter signed by two Nobel Peace Laureates and over 100 scholars and human rights activists, who called for the HRW to ban those involved in US foreign policy from working for the organization, as it often reaches conclusions consistent with Western foreign policy positions, presenting a bias in their reporting.
The ministry then complained of the HRW’s focus on political rights which ignored the progress Cambodia has made in other areas. “The HRW’s emphasis on civil and political rights to the detriment of other fundamental rights, including the right to life, health, food, education, and development, is contrary to the UN standard. The UN’s principles of treating all human rights equally on the same footing with the same emphasis must be upheld,” according to the statement.