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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

International human rights groups back UN envoy's criticism of Cambodian government

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: International human rights groups voiced support Tuesday for a U.N. envoy's criticism of Cambodia's human rights situation, which has drawn an angry response from Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The groups urged Phnom Penh to engage in dialogue with Yash Ghai, the U.N.'s special envoy for human rights in Cambodia, who was shunned by Hun Sen during a 10-day visit earlier this month.

During his visit, Ghai heaped criticism on the government for alleged rights violations and called the judiciary "a perversity." He predicted that Cambodians were eventually "going to rise" against the government.

"All of his findings have been repeatedly raised in the past by local and international rights groups, U.N. agencies and bilateral and multilateral donors," Sara Colm, senior researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

The statement was also signed by the Asian Human Rights Commission, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, the International Federation for Human Rights and the World Organization Against Torture.

During his visit, Ghai met with many poor Cambodians who say they have been forced from their land by commercial developers.

"There's no denying the facts. Expropriation of the land of Cambodia's poor is reaching a disastrous level, the courts are politicized and corrupt, and impunity for human rights violators remains the norm," said Basil Fernando, executive director of the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission.

Hun Sen has vowed to never meet Ghai, accusing him of focusing only on the negative and ignoring the government's efforts to address human rights concerns.

Hun Sen's attacks on Ghai were "outrageous" and showed "contempt" for the United Nations, said Anselmo Lee, executive director of the Bangkok-based Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development.

The International Federation for Human Rights and the World Organization Against Torture are based in Paris and Geneva respectively.
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