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UN special rapporteur Surya Subedi speaks to the media during a press conference at a UN office in Phnom Penh
UN special rapporteur Surya Subedi speaks to the media during a press conference at a UN office in Phnom Penh this month. Pha Lina

A message for donors to Cambodia

Dear Editor,

Today, Cambodia’s rights record will be reviewed in the framework of the “Universal Periodic Review” (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The UPR is the only opportunity the international community has to engage on human rights with some states.

But not with Cambodia.

In addition to field presence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, frequent reports by the latter and reviews by UN expert bodies, Cambodia has been on the agenda of the Human Rights Council (HRC), and that of its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights, for two decades.

Following the 1991 Paris Peace Accords, a Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (now called Special Rapporteur) was appointed to monitor the country’s human rights situation.

Last September, the HRC extended the mandate held by Professor Surya Subedi, the current Special Rapporteur, for two years. NGOs that pushed for stronger language to be included in the HRC resolution were criticised for their alleged lack of constructiveness.

The end result was a text that failed to mention human rights violations for which the Cambodian authorities are responsible, ranging from arbitrary arrests and violence against peaceful demonstrators, to brutal forced evictions.

The resolution welcomed “efforts and progress” made by the government and encouraged it to pursue judicial and land reform. It simply stressed the need for it to “continue to enhance its efforts to investigate urgently and to prosecute … those who have perpetrated serious crimes”.

Think this is strong language? Let us examine previous resolutions on Cambodia, looking at the issue of impunity.

Resolutions adopted in the 1990s expressed “grave concern” about “numerous violations” and urged the government to address impunity “as a matter of critical and urgent priority” (1997); stressed that “addressing the continuing problem of impunity [remained] a matter of critical and urgent priority” (1998); or “strongly appealed” to the government to “take all necessary measures” to bring perpetrators to account (1999).

Resolutions adopted from 2000-2003 expressed “serious concern” about the prevalence of impunity and called upon the government to “take further measures, as a matter of critical priority” – the word “urgent” disappeared. They welcomed “investigations into some cases of politically motivated violence” (2000) and recognised the government’s “commitment and efforts” (2002).

The 2004-2005 resolutions welcomed Cambodia’s progress “in improving its human rights situation” and urged the government to “address as a matter of priority, inter alia, the climate of impunity” – the word “critical” disappeared.

Then, 2008-2009 HRC resolutions expressed the Council’s “concern about some areas of human rights practices” and urged Cambodia to “continue to address [. . .] the problem of impunity” – what was before a “climate” of impunity merely became a “problem”.

Finally, 2010 and 2011 resolutions urged the government to investigate and prosecute “all those who have perpetrated serious crimes”. The word “impunity” disappeared altogether.

The resolutions were of a merely “technical assistance” character and contained no condemnatory language.

The weak, de-politicised 2013 resolution was the obvious next step.

In fact, by failing to condemn ongoing impunity and abuse of power in the run-up to last year’s election, and adopting weaker and weaker resolutions, the international community allowed the continuation of a system in which, whenever challenged, the Prime Minister reacts by using the only language he knows: brute force.

What we witnessed in the last decade was merely the illusion of progress. The relative decline in political violence was due to fear, not consolidation of the rule of law.

Up to 2003-2004, the most serious human rights violations perpetrated in Cambodia were related to political struggles – ie, struggles over control of the state apparatus and the spoil system and patronage possibilities that come with it.

After that date, once CPP hegemony had been firmly established, most human rights abuses were committed in relation to economic struggles, as loyalties had to be bought and cronies had to be fed.

But as CPP rule is being challenged, the regime is proving that it still regards violence as a legitimate political strategy. They feel authorised to use the army to shoot at protesters, ban all public gatherings and detain citizens incommunicado.

And they do so in part because they know there will be no international outcry – only, possibly, more “technical assistance”.

Cambodia’s donors – who are the main sponsors of UN resolutions on the country – should put their response in line with the political reality, and that response should not be limited to technical assistance.

It should involve a full range of human rights tools: monitoring, reporting and condemnatory stances. This can start today with the UPR.

What Cambodia needs is strong institutions, not strong men. Rule of law will not come as a by-product of technical assistance.

As long as donors will not demand real reform in exchange for aid, there will be no progress.

Human rights are inescapably political. They are about imposing limits on the exercise of power.

In Cambodia, greater respect for human rights, legal safeguards and checks and balances will mean undermining the regime and its cronies, whose rule is based on injustice, violence and impunity.

Technical assistance will be no substitute for political will.

Nicolas Agostini
Delegate,
United Nations at the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

1

Comments

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Victor's picture

Information below is part of the 1991 Paris Peace Accords for Cambodia. Hun Sen seriously abused and violated the human rights, included using deadly forces to evict land and house from hundreds of thousands innocent Cambodians without compensation and killed innocent people. He needs to be brought to justice.
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Agreement on a Comprehensive Political Settlement of the Cambodia Conflict

Part III: Human Rights
Article 15
1. All persons in Cambodia and all Cambodian refugees and displaced persons shall enjoy the rights and freedoms embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant international human rights instruments.
2. To this end,
a. Cambodia undertakes:
• to ensure respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cambodia;
•to support the right of all Cambodian citizens to undertake activities which would promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms;
•to take effective measures to ensure that the policies and practices of the past shall never be allowed to return;
• to adhere to relevant international human rights instruments;

b. the other Signatories to this Agreement undertake to promote and encourage respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cambodia as embodied in the relevant international instruments and the relevant resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly, in order, in particular, to prevent the recurrence of human rights abuses.
---------------------------------------------------------
Part VII: Principles for a New Constitution for Cambodia
Article 23
Basic principles, including those regarding human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as regarding Cambodia's status of neutrality, which the new Cambodian Constitution will incorporate, are set forth in annex 5.

Annex 5:
Principles for a New Constitution for Cambodia
1.The constitution will be the supreme law of the land. It may be amended only by a designated process involving legislative approval, popular referendum, or both.
2.Cambodia's tragic recent history requires special measures to assure protection of human rights. Therefore, the constitution will contain a declaration of fundamental rights, including the rights to life, personal liberty, security, freedom of movement, freedom of religion, assembly and association including political parties and trade unions, due process and equality before the law, protection from arbitrary deprivation of property or deprivation of private property without just compensation, and freedom from racial, ethnic, religious or sexual discrimination. It will prohibit the retroactive application of criminal law. The declaration will be consistent with the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant international instruments. Aggrieved individuals will be entitled to have the courts adjudicate and enforce these rights.
3.The constitution will declare Cambodia's status as a sovereign, independent and neutral State, and the national unity of Cambodian people.
4.The constitution will state that Cambodia will follow a system of liberal democracy, on the basis of pluralism. It will provide for periodic and genuine elections. It will provide for the right to vote and to be elected by universal and equal suffrage. It will provide for voting by secret ballot, with a requirement that electoral procedures provide a full and fair opportunity to organize and participate in the electoral process.
5.An independent judiciary will be established, empowered to enforce the rights provided under the constitution.
6.The constitution will be adopted by a two-thirds majority of the members of the constituent assembly.

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