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Cambodia took a step back
this month in the protection of fundamental human rights. On December 18, the
Royal Government of Cambodia forcibly repatriated a group of twenty asylum
seekers, members of China's Uighur community, back to China before the United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR] had the chance to complete its
refugee status determination.
U.S. State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said, "The United States is
deeply concerned about the welfare of these individuals, who had sought protection
under international law. We are also deeply disturbed that the Cambodian
government decided to forcibly remove the group without the benefit of a
credible process for determining refugee status and without appropriate
participation by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for
"The United States strongly opposed Cambodia's involuntary return of these
asylum seekers before their claims have been heard," said Mr. Duguid. He
noted that "the incident will affect Cambodia's relationship with the U.S.
and its international standing."
Cambodian law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status in
accordance with the 1951 U-N Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and
its 1967 protocol, to which Cambodia is a signatory. But the Uighurs were
denied the protection afforded by the law.
During his trip to China earlier this year, President Barack Obama said the
United State does not "seek to impose any system of government on any
nation, but we also don't believe that the principles that we stand for are
unique to our nation." These principles include fundamental human rights,
he said. "They should be available to all people, including ethnic and
religious minorities," said President Obama, "whether they are in the
United States, China, or any nation."
Now that the group of Uighurs who were seeking asylum in Cambodia has been
returned to China, the United States urges the government of China to allow
UNHCR access to all twenty Uighurs and to provide them with international
standards of due process. The U.S. continues to stress to all parties the
importance of respecting human rights and honoring their obligations under