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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - All friends together celebrating human rights

All friends together celebrating human rights

rights.jpg
rights.jpg

A LIGHT MOMENT...

shared by Prime Minister Hun Sen and Assembly President Norodom Ranariddh

on Rights Day.

© Heng Sinith

Only two months ago, National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh's supporters

were being beaten, shot, arrested and even killed by police for demonstrating against

Prime Minister Hun Sen.

But on Dec 10 the two met under a UN flag and made smiling speeches about human rights.

Those who attended acknowledged that it was appropriate for the 50th anniversary

party of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to include top government officials.

But many regretted the lack of constructive discussions of Cambodia's rights situation.

"Such an occasion needs to be a cause for some substantial reflection... that

there are substantial local problems," said an attendee from the diplomatic

corps.

Hun Sen spoke of human rights in general terms: "We are in need of human rights

and we are struggling until our goal is reached, i.e. no one is suffering from...

violation by power, racism, etc."

Ranariddh, who was out of the country in fear for his life for a large part of the

year - a year in which many of his supporters were murdered and he himself tried

for treason and convicted in absentia - was muted in his comments on the rights situation:

"We in Cambodia need to work harder."

Several Westerners at the ceremony muttered that the UN agencies here - the event

was co-sponsored by the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative, the Cambodia

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the United Nations Development

Fund - should also be working harder on demanding improvements.

One opposition MP, while agreeing more could be done, said the final push has to

come from Cambodians themselves.

"[UN Special Representative] Mehrotra is too diplomatic. He does not stand up

for truth and justice... [but] the UN can only do things if there is some kind of

positive response from the Cambodian government," said Son Chhay of the Sam

Rainsy Party.

The government - in the form of the dozens of Ministers and State Secretaries attending

Human Rights Day - declined to watch a UN video on human rights following the speeches.

Only opposition leader Sam Rainsy remained to watch the film, which included footage

shot in Cambodia.

The COHCHR has documented scores of cases of politically-suspect violence this year,

often implicating Hun Sen's security apparatus. But the government has failed to

act upon the information. "No progress was made during the year toward ending

impunity for rights violations; officials linked to murders and √ędisappearances'

remained in office," says Human Rights Watch 1998 report on Cambodia.

Several local rights workers say they are frustrated not only by the government's

lack of action but also by what they say is the softening attitude of the UN's rights

envoy here, Thomas Hammarberg.

"If you look at his statements compared to a year ago, they are much more accommodating

[towards the government]," said one rights worker.

"He's kept a lower profile lately, less outspoken," agreed another.

But Son Chhay, for one, believes that Hammarberg is the wrong target for criticism.

"From the beginning everybody knows that Hammarberg was very outspoken, he does

all he can, but come to the end of the day, Cambodian people need to do it themselves

too," he said. "Look at Funcinpec. They do not stand up for their own people,

but [they] ask Hammarberg to."

"I'm not blaming Hammar-berg, I feel sorry for him. He tried his best... does

Ranariddh mention [murdered loyalist] Ho Sok anymore? Why should Hammar-berg mention

Ho Sok if Ranariddh does not?"

Still, many believe that Ham-marberg's last visit here, in October, focused too much

on the positives - his attempts to get a UN tribunal for the Khmer Rouge underway,

at the expense of the negatives - a report on deaths and other rights violations

during September's demonstrations.

"He has to maintain relationships with the authorities and the international

community, but having said that, the overriding focus on the KR in his first visit

after elections was regrettable," said a diplomatic source.

Some rights workers and diplomats say privately that Ham-marberg's agenda may present

a conflict - that it is difficult for him to slam the government for continuing impunity

issues while soliciting support for a KR trial.

Hammarberg dismissed such concerns, asserting that he is still "very much"

concerned about impunity, including the September deaths.

"We are pursuing the cases [in the report]," he said by email. "The

identity of one of the bodies mentioned in our 28 October memorandum has been established

as one of those who took part in the demonstrations and then disappeared."

But given the extensive work of the COHCHR documenting political violence before,

during and after the July election, some activists are bitter that Ham-marberg did

not issue a post-poll statement on the human rights climate.

Hammarberg's written statements, along with the seven COHCHR electoral-violence reports,

do criticize the rights climate, however - and address several points which UN Secretary-General

Kofi Annan had flagged before the polls as necessary for free elections, including

intimidation and media access.

Noting the "many well-documented complaints of intimidation", Hammarberg

wrote in his Sep 17 report to the UN General Assembly: "In some districts and

communes opposition party members were unable to operate at all because of threats

or fears of violence.

"Both before and during the electoral period, equal or equitable access to the

broadcast media did not exist in Cambodia," he said.

Despite Hammarberg's comments and the Center's reports, the UN - which had no direct

part in the election, instead only to coordinating the Joint International Observers

Group (JIOG) - did not follow up on them.

A diplomatic source noted that Hammarberg was in a tricky position during the election.

"It's a difficult job being the UN representative during an election where the

UN had no role... how the Center's reports were treated by JIOG is reflective of

[JIOG's] position on human rights."

Although the COHCHR's election monitoring team's mandate has ended, director Rosemary

McCreery said monitoring will continue, with one more staff member than before elections.

"Our monitoring unit has been more active this year than it ever has before,"

she said, noting the office released a May memo detailing violations after last July's

coup; brought in two experts to review government investigations of politically suspect

cases; produced seven electoral reports, two on media access, and six statements

during September's demonstrations. Those reports detail at least 80 killings - and

no convictions have been forthcoming.

"Our mandates will continue for some more time and monitoring of the human rights

situation is part of that mandate," Ham-marberg said of the office and himself.

Yet local observers worry that the office may be aligning itself too closely with

the government since an Oct 30 memo signed by Hammarberg and Cambodian Human Rights

Commission chair Om Yien Tieng.

The memo agreed that the CHRC would be the focal point for November's visit of UN

experts concerning a KR trial; that the UN will send two experts to help review the

legal system and investigations; and that the CHRC and COHCHR "will continue

to cooperate to ensure the successful implementation of the initiatives mentioned

above".

While noting that the language of the memo is not strong, observers question why

it was necessary at all. "It was cementing a UN relationship with an institution

that is deeply suspect," said a diplomatic source.

Local rights workers voice concern on the inaction of the CPP-friendly CHRC (Yien

Tieng was a top adviser to Hun Sen) and the fact that the new National Assembly human

rights commission is also chaired by the CPP - since the CPP-dominated government

has failed miserably in investigating cases of political violence against opposition

members.

A Human Rights Watch representative agreed. "We remain skeptical because many

of the key players are the same as those in the previous coalition government, under

which there were many human rights violations. We will be monitoring the new government's

track record on human rights very closely."

The opposition Sam Rainsy Party warned in a Dec 9 statement that the international

community should condition their support of Cambodia "on actual progress in

respect for human rights, not promises, not pledges, not committees and conferences,

but prosecution of human rights violators from the bottom ranks to the top".

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