I am writing to express my utter dismay at the government's decision to cancel the Miss Landmine Cambodia 2009 beauty pageant.
This decision, taken in the apparent interest of land mine victims, strikes at the heart of the self-worth of the participants and land-mine victims in general, and is further evidence that the government has little or no regard for freedom of expression in Cambodia.
Miss Landmine Cambodia was organised in order to "highlight globally a very serious and unnecessary social problem".
In a country with 25,000 amputees among 63,000 land mine victims, this kind of awareness-raising is badly needed. Nevertheless, whether such awareness-raising is required and, indeed, whether the competition itself is one of good taste are irrelevant considerations in the discussion at hand.
The lnternational Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Cambodia acceded in 1992, and the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia guarantee freedom of expression to all Cambodians.
The Miss Landmine Cambodia beauty pageant would have represented a rare opportunity for members of a marginalised group within Cambodia to exercise their freedom of expression, a freedom which is formulated on the basis of dignity and justice for all.
How long will we wait until the government embraces ... the people they purport to represent?
The decision to cancel the competition is testament to the sad reality that this "freedom", like so many others that are said to be guaranteed to all Cambodians on a nondiscriminatory basis, exists only in the abstract.
The government has stated that Miss Landmine Cambodia 2009 "would make a mockery of Cambodian land mine victims" and undermine their "dignity and honour".
The ICCPR states that freedom of expression may be subject to limitations where the rights and reputations of other citizens so require.
However, the beauty pageant had received the endorsement of the Cambodian Mine Action Group and the Cambodian Disabled People's Organisation. lt is apparent that the decision to cancel this pageant is entirely disproportionate and constitutes yet another violation of freedom of expression.
Whether this decision was motivated by prejudice or a genuine interest to protect what were believed to be the best interests of Cambodian land mine victims is beside the point.
The participants have the right to determine their interests and the decision to take part was theirs and theirs alone and should never have required government approval.
In 2007, at the inaugural Miss Landmine competition in Angola, the first lady of Angola presented the winners with their prizes.
The decision to cancel the Cambodian competition represents yet another blow to freedom of expression. One must ask: How long will we wait until the government embraces the rights of the people they purport to represent?
Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR)
Member of the Alliance for Freedom of Expression in Cambodia (AFEC)
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