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Friday, March 14, 2008

Cambodia rejects U.S. human rights assessment

PHNOM PENH, March 14 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia has dismissed a U.S. report on the country's human rights record, saying that the annual report to the U.S. congress entirely contradicts the true reality in the country, the Cambodia Daily newspaper reported Friday.

The Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued a statement in response of the U.S. report, saying "we have found that many of the accusations contained in this report do not even exist or are simply over exaggerated."

"We certainly recognize that human rights in Cambodia are not perfect. But is there any perfect human rights situation anywhere in the world?" the statement said, adding that the report relied too heavily on the views of anti-government NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) and appeared timed to coincide with the national election.

Cambodia fully does not believe that the country will ever receive a good mark unless the Cambodian government has "affectionate" relations with the United States, the statement said.

The annual report, release by the U.S. State Department on Wednesday, said an array of human rights guarantees were lacking in Cambodia and that the country's human rights record "remained poor."
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Cambodia's genocide trials threatened by funding crisis

The lucky notorious chef of Tuol Sleng prison is still living a long life sitting in the room with air conditioning, listening to hip hop judge rap about his crime

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Cambodia's top administrator to the country's Khmer Rouge tribunal this week gathered together his more than 200 staff to break the news that after April they would not be paid.

The stunning announcement by Sean Visoth is the most tangible sign yet that the UN-backed genocide court, established to prosecute leaders of the regime that was toppled nearly 30 years ago, is going bankrupt months before the first trials are expected to open.

The court's top officials hold out hope that the international community or the Cambodian government will come up with the millions needed to keep the tribunal running.

But the funding crisis has become the most serious threat yet to the proceedings, already beleaguered by allegations of corruption and mismanagement amid fears of political interference.
"It is hard to imagine that the court can continue to function without funds," said tribunal spokeswoman Helen Jarvis, explaining that the Cambodian side of the joint court would go broke in April.

The UN-supported half of the tribunal is funded for several months more, but would also need a significant influx of cash after that.

"As the time for expiration of existing funds draws nearer, the situation obviously becomes more acute," Jarvis told AFP.

Originally budgeted at 56.3 million dollars over three years, the tribunal's operating costs have ballooned as the enormity of the job of prosecuting those behind Cambodia's darkest chapter becomes more apparent.

Up to two million people died of starvation and overwork, or were executed as the communist Khmer Rouge dismantled modern Cambodian society in a bid to forge an agrarian utopia during their 1975-79 rule.

After nearly a decade of wrangling, the UN and Cambodia opened the tribunal in 2006. The regime's top five surviving leaders were arrested last year in what many saw as a sign of the sluggish court's gathering momentum.

But those close to the proceedings say staff are overwhelmed, in part by paperwork, particularly the task of translating tens of thousands of documents into either Cambodian, French or English, the three languages used by the court.

"The original assumptions about the resources needed and the tasks to be accomplished were inaccurate as is often the case in these tribunals," said co-prosecutor Robert Petit, who like other court officials has been critical of the tribunal's funding structure and projected timeframe.

"The original budget was inadequate and contained many gaps in essential areas," said the UN's tribunal spokesman Peter Foster.

The UN and Cambodian government have requested an additional 114 million dollars that would allow the court to add hundreds of new staff and remain in operation until 2011.

But so far none of the tribunal's principle donors -- Japan, France, Britain, Germany and Australia -- has stepped forward to commit more money.

"A lack of funds could certainly delay the proceedings," Foster said.

Another obstacle in the oft-stalled proceedings would be a further blow to the tribunal's credibility at a time when support is crucial.

Observers say that despite the arrests, donors do not want the tribunal to be a show-trial that risks being commandeered by Cambodia's government, which includes many former Khmer Rouge.

Two critical audits detailing hiring irregularities, with lucrative jobs allegedly going to under-qualified candidates, have also made donors hesitant to throw their full support behind the tribunal, the funding for which remains a fraction of that received by other international courts.

"The donors received the revised budget estimate at the end of January.... They have asked for further clarification in a number of areas and that is now being provided by the court," the UN's Foster said.

He added that donors are expected to meet before the end of the month to discuss the tribunal's money crunch, and that a sliver of optimism remains.

"Neither the international community nor the United Nations want to see the court fail, especially since we have successfully come so far along in the process," he said.
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UN expert slams India, Cambodia, Thailand over sex tourism

GENEVA (AFP) — India, Cambodia and Thailand are not doing enough to protect children against the risks associated with sex tourism for fear of damaging their economies, a UN human rights expert charged on Friday.

Juan Miguel Petit, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of children, said authorities in these countries are often not willing to tackle the issue of children's sexual exploitation for tourists' benefit.

"Sometimes there are big pressures on governments, explicitly or implicitly, when there are enormous touristic activities going on, making millions of dollars," he told journalists.

"Some interests see the limitation on the sexual market as a limitation for their earning of money," he added.

He denounced this "insane tourism that puts at risk the lives of hundreds and hundreds of children," saying it was against the public interest in such countries.

In general, Asia "continues to be a very difficult, alarming place" as far as human trafficking is concerned, Petit said.

Police often appear unconcerned about the scale and gravity of the problem, he charged.

"They accept this kind of crime in a passive way, as if their job was only to chase bank robbers," he said.

Many convicted Western sex offenders are drawn to Southeast Asia for its perceived laxness in terms of child sex.

British former pop star Gary Glitter, whose real name is Paul Gadd, was jailed for three years in Vietnam in 2005 for molesting girls aged 11 and 12.

He fled Britain for Southeast Asia, initially Cambodia, in 1999 after serving half of a four-month prison term for possession of child pornography.
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Russian investor receives 13 years in jail in Cambodia for abusing teenager

PHNOM PENH, March 14 (Xinhua) -- Russian investor Alexander Trofimov, 41 years old, received 13 years in jail from the Phnom Penh Municipal Court here on Friday, for his sexual abuse of a 14-year-old Cambodian girl.

Chief Judge Ke Sakhan said that the court had enough evidence to convict Trofimov.

Cambodian man Phal Vannara, 34 years old, was also sentenced to11 years of imprisonment for providing the girl to the Russian man.

According to the sentence, the two men had to pay 100,000 U.S. dollars in compensation for the victim.

The girl earlier testified to the court that she had sex with Trofimov for four times in September last year for some 100 U.S. dollars out of the 1,000 U.S. dollars that Trofimov paid to the middle man.

Lawyer for the investor told reporters that his client will appeal.

Trofimov was arrested in October 2007 for allegedly sexually abusing at least 19 girls since 2005.

He has remained a prominent figure in the kingdom, after signing a deal of 300 million U.S. dollars in 2006 to develop an island near port city Sihanoukville into a tourist resort.

The Cambodian government in recent years exerted a heavy hand over paedophiles, as child rights groups campaigned hard for it to take the problem in a serious way.
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