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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Accept criticism for the sake of democracy

Accept criticism for the sake of democracy

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.

Perhaps

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.

The

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

fields".

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

.4).

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.

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