(New York) - New Cambodian asylum regulations do not meet Cambodia's obligations under the United Nations Refugee Convention, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen today.

On December 20, 2009, three days after Hun Sen signed new procedures for determining refugee status, the Cambodian government forcibly returned 20 ethnic Uighur asylum seekers to China in violation of international law. Strikingly, the document outlining the procedures, known as a sub-decree, allows the interior minister to ignore both the procedures and the recommendations on refugee status of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

"Cambodia's new regulations allow the government far too much leeway to deny refugee status and to forcibly return people who fear persecution," said Bill Frelick, refugee policy director at Human Rights Watch. "And the return of the Uighurs to China three days later raises major doubts about whether Cambodia takes its obligations toward refugees seriously."

Human Rights Watch said the new regulations would be especially dangerous in politically sensitive cases like those involving the Uighurs, some of whom may now face the death penalty in China.

Human Rights Watch's letter to Hun Sen provides a point-by-point analysis of the refugee sub-decree and urges him to amend it to bring it into conformity with the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which Cambodia is a party. It also urges the Cambodian government to consult with the UN refugee agency to allow it access to all people seeking asylum in Cambodia, and to respect and honor the agency's exercise of its mandate to recognize and protect refugees in any country, including Cambodia.