Cambodia is about half the size of Germany. There is a tropical monsoon climate with a species-rich fauna and flora. The country has huge bodies of water, the Tonle Sap is the largest and richest in fish inland in Southeast Asia. The Mekong, which flows through the country from north to south, is also an important lifeline.
In Cambodia, respect for human rights is unfortunately still subordinate to power politics. Repressions usually come in waves, the last major one being the government’s violent repression against workers and opposition supporters at the beginning of January 2014. However, several politically motivated murders and arbitrary judicial decisions show which reservoir of violence could be activated at any time. The killings of regime critic Kem Ley (2016), environmental activist Chut Wutty (2012) and trade union leader Chea Vichea (2004) were viewed as extrajudicial executions by some observers rated and caused a sensation even across national borders. The murders of the trade unionists Ros Sovannareth and Hy Vuthy were also seen as politically motivated and exemplify the difficult position of the labor movement in Cambodia. To this day, however, the events of 1997, in which not only the coup in Hun Sen took place, but also the attack on protesters of the Sam Rainsy Party, are considered the most serious (and lasting) human rights violation since the first free elections in 1993.
Arrests of opposition politicians and intimidation of dissidents have returned as a key feature of Cambodian domestic politics since 2015. Beyond these politically motivated acts, everyday human rights violations are ignited by the unresolved issue of land ownership – and even when this seems obvious, expropriation for little or no compensation is the order of the day. The reason for this is the award of agro-industrial land concessions and mining licenses, which now cover around a quarter of the total area of the state. Also the sale of nature reserves is no longer a specialty. The assumption that just under 1.7% of the population (i.e. more than 260,000 people) should exist in slave-like conditions continues to be particularly problematic – allegedly the situation is only worse in eight other countries in the world.
In January 2017, against the background of the murder of Kem Ley, Al Jazeera produced a remarkable report on the connections between the exercise of political power, corruption and human rights.
According to Ehistorylib.com, Cambodia’s freedom of the press has been eroding for years and now has to put up with the unflattering predicate ” unfree “. At the beginning of the century it was considered to be the best developed in all of Southeast Asia, but in 2020 it fell to 144th place among 180 countries in the global ranking of Reporters Without Borders. While the electronic media in particular were previously dominated by the CPP, the regime is increasingly taking action against almost any independent expression of opinion. In addition to a strong tendency towards self-censorship, there are other fundamental deficits due to an inadequate legal framework, a lack of a press code and an occasional one questionable professional understanding, which all together has a significant effect on journalistic quality.
The fate of the last representatives of the free (and mainly English-language) press is indicative of the fundamental changes in recent years. On September 4, 2017, the Cambodia Daily, one of Cambodia’s most critical newspapers and an important source of information for expats, had to cease operations after more than 24 years because of alleged tax debts. Several radio stations have also been forced to close, while the Phnom Penh Post has been reporting predominantly pro-government since a more or less forced change of ownership in May 2018. The only relevant English-language media are the pro-government Khmer Times and the Fresh News portal, which is commonly known as the mouthpiece of the regime. Only the digital Southeast Asia Globe and the American radio programs Radio Free Asia and Voice of America have retained their independence to this day.
As a substitute for the always one-sided reporting on domestic political issues, many (mainly urban) Cambodians are increasingly using social media, mainly Facebook, to find out more. Photos and videos are often used there that are taken with smartphones and immediately shared with others online. Since many Internet and smartphone users can also act as multipliers to inform relatives and friends, the range of information that has not been influenced by the government is still greater than ever before.
Hun Sen also puts a lot of effort into staging himself on Facebook, whose team was supported by the CDU and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung from Germany in building up appropriate PR skills. At the same time, in recent years it has become increasingly risky to post or share critical opinions or reports that do not cast the government in a good light.