Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy with an elected government. The Cambodian People's Party and the royalist National United Front for a Neutral, Peaceful, Cooperative, and Independent Cambodia Party formed a coalition government in 2004. However, the Cambodian People's Party continues to dominate the government, with most power concentrated in the hands of Prime Minister Hun Sen. The government's human rights record remained poor in 2007 due to the lack of political will to enforce the rule of law; the abuse of detainees; the continuing problem of land disputes and forced evictions; restrictions on freedom of speech and press through the use of defamation and disinformation suits; trafficking in persons; and endemic corruption. However, the government took some positive steps during the year, such as when the Khmer Rouge Tribunal charged five senior Khmer Rouge officials with crimes against humanity. Currently all are in detention awaiting trial.
Strengthening Cambodia's democratic system, supporting rule of law, reducing corruption, and reinforcing protection of human rights are key priorities of the U.S. government. As U.S. officials continue promoting enhanced democratic systems, supporting political and legal rights groups remain fundamental activities. The U.S. government is urging free and fair national elections in July 2008, with a government that is formed consistent with constitutional requirements. The U.S. government encourages openness in public political discourse, political pluralism, and civic participation and responsibility. In addition, U.S. officials and U.S.-supported NGOs address the issues of land reform, use of restraint during legal evictions, and efforts to fight corruption.
The U.S. government seeks to strengthen NGOs that monitor and investigate human rights abuses and that advocate, support, and monitor legal and political rights. The U.S. government supports the Cambodian government's goal of eliminating trafficking in persons. The U.S. government works to protect worker rights and combat the worst forms of child labor. U.S.-sponsored programs promote freedom of the press and encourage educational and economic opportunities for the country's Muslim community.
U.S. embassy officials use public fora and press events to deliver remarks on a range of topics related to good governance, including the passage of an anticorruption law that meets international standards; the need for judicial reform and independence; government transparency; and respect for a free press. U.S. officials have an ongoing strategy to discuss good governance and human rights concerns with numerous ministers and government officials including Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Minister of Interior.
The U.S. government promotes democratic, free, and fair 2008 national elections that are open to all parties. The U.S. embassy registered 12 officials as long-term monitors for the July 2008 election. Monitors reviewed voter registration and the voter deletion list process. The U.S. government supports programs that are organizing more than 30 multiparty candidate debates. U.S. officials successfully pushed for the debates to be televised nationally. The United States is sponsoring activities to encourage more women to be active in politics and to participate as major political party candidates. Another U.S.-sponsored program broadens youth participation in political life by providing training to more than 35,000 youth.
U.S. embassy officials continue to press for strengthening the rule of law and judicial independence. In 2007, a U.S.-funded program, together with the Royal University of Law and Economics, launched the first national mock court trial competition in Cambodia. The same U.S.-sponsored program facilitated government passage of the judicial ethics code during the year. U.S.-sponsored programs to increase the quality of legal professionals contribute to judicial reform and anticorruption efforts. The U.S. government sponsors a pilot program at the Kandal province court to improve court transparency. To aid in bringing Khmer Rouge leaders and those most responsible for the atrocities to justice, the United States continues to support Cambodia's only independent NGO devoted to documenting the crimes against humanity committed by the former Khmer Rouge regime.
U.S. government officials promote the opening of political space by supporting human rights groups that focus on access to political and legal rights. The United States provides funding for, engages with, and promotes local NGOs that investigate hundreds of alleged human rights abuses and provide direct intervention and legal services to individuals. A U.S.-funded Cambodian legal defense NGO continues to provide legal aid services for the poor. Another U.S. program uses class action cases on behalf of communities involved in land disputes. One U.S.-supported program trains persons in human rights promotion and protection, and gender-based violence prevention programs. The United States funds the International Labor Organization and other programs to protect worker rights through monitoring labor conditions in garment factories, supporting a labor arbitration mechanism, and combating the worst forms of child labor.
U.S. embassy officials encourage greater freedom of assembly by direct advocacy with the government. For example, U.S. officials successfully urged the government to permit a December 10, 2007 Human Rights Day march and rally and an April 6, 2008 opposition party rally in Phnom Penh. U.S. efforts to promote media freedom are centered on programs to educate journalists about their role in a democratic society and to improve the quality of reporting. The U.S. government supports a program that trains Cambodian journalists on how to cover court proceedings--including the Khmer Rouge Tribunal--elections, and anticorruption cases. The United States continues to address the threat of radical Islam by promoting democracy education and support for the Muslim community through a combination of outreach programs and small grants. The U.S. government distributes Khmer-language and Cham-language copies of "Muslim Life in America" during visits to mosques and Muslim community centers. With U.S. support, a local NGO broadcast continues a weekly Cham-language news and information program, the only program in the country to engage Cham Muslims in their own language.
Combating trafficking in persons is a vital component of the U.S. strategy to promote human rights. The U.S. government supports government efforts to coordinate counter-trafficking in persons activities in partnership with NGOs and government ministries and agencies.