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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 20 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 Refugees."
"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 international law.