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Greens condemn 'dirty deal' with Cambodia

The government can't guarantee the safety of refugees if they are sent to Cambodia, especially girls says Greens Senator Sarah Hanson Young.

PT12M57S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-3dm97 620 349

A month before Australia asked Cambodia to take 1000 refugees from its care, it told the south-east Asian nation it needed to stop its military from killing street protesters, violently crushing political opposition and detaining people without trial.

On January 28, Australia formally upbraided Cambodia at the United Nations in Geneva over human rights abuses, telling the country it was concerned about government crackdowns on demonstrations, ''particularly the disproportionate violence against protesters, including detention without trial''.

Cambodia has been crippled for the past year by street protests over the government's alleged electoral fraud, human rights abuses and political corruption.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop with her Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop with her Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong. Photo: Reuters

Police and soldiers have shot stone-throwing protesters dead with assault rifles and arbitrarily arrested rally leaders. The government has banned all demonstrations and closed ''Freedom Park'', the main protest site in the capital Phnom Penh.

On February 22, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop asked Cambodia to resettle up to 1000 refugees nowin the Australian-run detention centre in Nauru.

That deal, whereby Australia would reportedly pay Cambodia $40 million for taking its refugees, is set to be signed possibly as soon as this week.

Illustration: Ron Tandberg.

Illustration: Ron Tandberg.

In its formal comments to the Universal Periodic Review – the United Nations' process for assessing member nations' human rights – Australia also noted ''allegations of electoral irregularities'' in Cambodia's election last year and urged the country to ''undertake electoral reforms to ensure credible electoral processes''.

Last July's poll, which returned Hun Sen's government, was systematically defrauded by the ruling party, according to Human Rights Watch and other observers.

Australia also told Cambodia it needed to establish an independent national human rights institution to monitor abuses and to protect the rights of citizens.

Vulnerable minorities – particularly the homeless, mentally ill and drug users – are often arbitrarily arrested in Cambodia, the United States government says.

''Members of the security forces reportedly committed arbitrary killings … prison guards and police abused detainees, often to extract confessions, and prison conditions were harsh,'' the US government's 2013 human rights report for Cambodia says.

''Kicking, punching, and pistol whipping were the most common methods of reported physical abuse, but electric shock, suffocation, caning and whipping with wires were also used.''

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison's office had ''no further update'' on the Cambodia deal or human rights abuses in that country.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade refused to comment.

David Manne, from the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, said any refugees transferred to Cambodia risked further persecution.

''It is simply not a suitable place to be resettling refugees,'' he said. ''Cambodia has one of the poorest human rights records in the region, it is engulfed in a human rights crisis and it is barely able to look after the needs and rights of its own people, let alone those of refugees. This is Australia shirking its responsibilities to refugees, rather than shouldering them.''

And he said he was ''deeply concerned'' by the secrecy surrounding the deal.

''The Australian government has grave responsibilities to protect the rights of these people; the public here and around the world have the right to know whether it is meeting those responsibilities.''

@BenDohertyCorro

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