Prime Minister Hun Sen has chided Human Rights Watch (HRW) Asia director Brad Adams for keeping quiet over protest crackdowns in the US following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.
Addressing reporters while inspecting infrastructure development in Preah Sihanouk province on Monday, Hun Sen said the inaction demonstrated HRW’s double standards on human rights issues.
“Where are Brad Adams and Human Rights Watch? Where are they now? Why haven’t we heard its cries for human rights?
“When Cambodia curbs demonstrations, they say Cambodia violates human rights. But when other countries clamp down on demonstrations, they say it’s a measure to safeguard social order. Why is it extremely different [from Cambodia]?” he asked.
The prime minister pointed out that when China placed Wuhan under lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19, it was also accused of having violated citizens’ rights.
But when Western countries followed suit, he said the move was regarded by the same critics as necessary measures to protect against the pandemic.
“When Cambodia broke up demonstrations, they said we violated freedom of expression and the right to protest. But when a pro-democracy country does the same, when they curb the same type of demonstrations, sometimes with bloody clashes, they said it’s a measure to maintain social order.
“Doesn’t Cambodia also need social order? If Brad Adams dares not speak about the suppression of demonstrations in the US, then stop speaking ill of Cambodia.
“Where have all the human rights defenders in the world gone? Why are they so quiet now? They used to talk a lot about us arresting destroyers of the nation,” he said.
Citing the words of US President Donald Trump, Hun Sen said US protesters were lucky that they had not entered the White House, where there are vicious dogs and guns.
He regarded Trump’s comment as a warning that people may have been killed had they jumped onto the White House ground.
The prime minister recalled demonstrations in Cambodia after the 2013 elections. At the time, a diplomat asked his son not to shoot demonstrators if they entered the Peace Palace, he said, referring to his Cabinet at the Council of Ministers in Phnom Penh.
“If they [US] have the right to shoot, why can’t we?” he asked.
Cambodia Human Rights Committee (CHRC) spokesperson Chin Malin, who is also a justice ministry secretary of state, joined in the fray.
On Facebook, he posted pictures of clashes between police and demonstrators in the US with the message: “Human rights and wrong acts of humans. Human rights and public safety.”
Reached for further comment on Tuesday, Malin said the message was intended to remind civil society organisations (CSOs) at home and abroad about human rights issues and social order.
He said the Cambodian government implemented laws to maintain social order and security in the event of chaos, with those committing violent acts brought to justice.
CSOs, he said, are known to accuse the government of violating human rights when curbing demonstrations.
“They talk about human rights but overlook the mistakes of those who commit crimes. Some CSOs at home and abroad have political trends [towards the opposition], so they only look at human rights and ignore ‘human wrongs’.
“When we implement the law, they say we violate human rights. But they don’t look at the activities that affect public order, security, society and privacy,” he said.
On ongoing protests in the US, he said he would wait and see the CSOs’ reactions at home and abroad.
“If they don’t react to the US’ [protests] as they did to Cambodia, it goes without saying that their activities and assessments represent double standards between human rights and the wrong acts of humans,” he said.
On Tuesday, HRW released a statement on the events in the US, saying Floyd was killed for no reason and that his family deserved justice.
Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) executive director Chak Sopheap said on Tuesday that the laws against racial discrimination and discrimination against African Americans had been violated.
She said CCHR condemned human rights abuses whether in Cambodia or abroad.
“Current events in America should not be used by the Cambodian government as a political tool to deflect attention away from the human rights situation in Cambodia.
“Human rights organisations are entitled to speak out on human rights abuses globally by exercising their freedom of expression, but ultimately, states hold the obligations to respect, protect and fulfil human rights.
“We further call for peaceful protests but remind states that their obligation to protect citizens extends to violent protests, and state’s use of force must only be exercised when it is strictly necessary,” she said.