O n 22 June 1995 the National Assembly expelled one of its members, Sam Rainsy.
That expulsion has attracted many criticisms especially from the West on the
grounds that it is illegal and violates the right to the freedom of speech that
Sam Rainsy had been exercising to mount attacks on the Government for its
wrongdoings, attacks which had led to his expulsion from FUNCINPEC and later
from the National Assembly. These criticisms of the expulsion have in turn
received rebuffs, at times very sharp, from Cambodian leaders.
for the first time since they came to power after the UNTAC-organized elections,
these leaders have felt so confident that they have stood up against external
criticisms of their treatment of Cambodian citizens. They have proudly asserted
that Cambodia is a sovereign state; that the expulsion of that member of the
National Assembly is an internal affair; and, invoking one of the sacred
principles of international law, that no country has the right to interfere in
the internal affairs of sovereign Cambodia and voice such criticisms.
Cambodian leaders' assertion of self-confidence and their rebuffs could signal
yet another turning point in Cambodia's tragic history. We have heard such
rebuffs before from Cambodian leaders, and from despotic leaders of other
countries. Invariably such rebuffs are delivered in response to invariably the
same issue of violations of human rights.
The Khmer Rouge leaders gave
savage rebuffs to the British Government when it raised the issue of violations
of human rights by their regime at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights
in Geneva in March 1978. Those Khmer Rouge leaders invoked the same
international principle of non-interference in internal affairs of sovereign
states. Because of this principle, countries around the world shied away from
interfering in then Democratic Kampuchea's internal affairs and could do nothing
to save the Cambodian people from what has later been described as "the killing
In order to avoid interfering in the internal affairs of any
specific country, we simply say that we have heard dictators of other countries,
near and far, invoke the same international principle of non-interference in
internal affairs of sovereign states rebuff criticisms of their ill-treatment of
their own people.
However, as far as Cambodia is concerned, rebuffs of
criticisms could have far reaching consequences on the nation's destiny. In the
first place, criticisms of the expulsion of that member of the National
Assembly, like criticisms over other issues of democracy and human rights in
Cambodia, should not be regarded as unfriendly. They are simply the legitimate
concerns of its citizens that have now been accepted as "the subject of the
legitimate concern of all mankind." (Paul Sieghart, The International Law of
Human Rights (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995).
The same concern is all the
more legitimate if they come from state-signatories to the Paris Peace
Agreements of 23 October 1991. In the preamble of the "Agreement on a
Comprehensive Political Settlement of the Cambodia Conflict", all signatories
including the Cambodian parties themselves have recognized that "Cambodia's
recent tragic history requires special measures to assure protection of human
rights, and the non-return to the policies and practices of the past." In this
Agreement the Cambodian parties have committed themselves, inter alia, to
observing and respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms; to supporting
the right of all Cambodian citizens to undertake activities which would promote
and protect these rights and freedom; and to taking "effective measures to
ensure that the policies and practices of the past shall never be allowed to
return." (Part III. Human Rights; Art. 15; para. 2 (a)). For their part, the
other signatories have undertaken to promote and encourage respect for and
observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cambodia, "in order, in
particular, to prevent the recurrence of human rights abuses." (Part III. Human
Rights; Art 15; para.2(b)).
These undertakings by both the Cambodian
parties and the other signatories are repeated in the "Agreement Concerning the
Sovereignty, Independence, Territorial Integrity and Inviolability, Neutrality
and National Unity of Cambodia." (Art. 3; para .2). On top of that, under the
terms of the two Agreements above, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights
"should continue to monitor closely the human rights situation in Cambodia."
("Agreement on a Comprehensive Settlement . . . "; Art . 17; "Agreement
Concerning the Sovereignty . . ."; Art. 3; para . 3).
It should be added
that all signatories including the Cambodian parties have agreed that Cambodia
will follow a "system of liberal democracy, on the basis of pluralism."
("Agreement on a Comprehensive Political Settlement. . ."; Annex 5; para
Under the terms of these Agreements, state-signatories are doing no
more than simply honoring their obligations when they express concern over the
Cambodian Government's failure to honor its obligations as clearly stipulated in
the Agreements above. The expression of this concern is their duty, and their
right too. Cambodian leaders who rebuff such concern can be seen not simply as
acting in an unfriendly manner towards those countries but also as unraveling
the Paris Peace Agreements. And one of these Agreements guarantees the
sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity of Cambodia,
in short, the very survival itself of the Cambodian nation. Furthermore, such
rebuffs do not contribute to good relations between Cambodia and the very
countries in the West that had invested so much in the restoration of peace in
Cambodia. If Cambodia turned its back on them, it would be the one who would
suffer. They could turn their back on it and wash their hands over its fate for
good. And the Cambodian nation simply cannot afford to, and should not, get
itself isolated yet again from those western countries.
Over the issue of
democracy and human rights, let's welcome all concern and criticisms, and thank
all their authors. They are rightful and legitimate, and they are from friends
who help guarantee our survival.
We rebuff such concern and criticisms at
our own peril.