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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Fears that UN weakening on human rights

Fears that UN weakening on human rights

A NEW UN resolution on Cambodian human rights has raised concerns among human rights

workers who believe the document represents a decline in international commitment

to improving the Cambodian situation.

The UN Commission on Human Rights adopts a resolution every year which indicates

its commitment to discussing and monitoring human rights in Cambodia.

The new resolution, written by Japan and adopted by the UN commission on April 20,

is dramatically different from last year.

The UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Human Rights in Cambodia,

Peter Leuprecht, described the document as "weak". Less than half the length,

the document's terminology is also much more approbatory.

Where last year's document "expresses grave concern about the continued violations

of human rights", the 2004 resolution "welcomes the progress that Cambodia

has been making ... while still concerned about continuing violations of human rights."

In the context of UN bureaucracy, where even small changes to documents are painstakingly

debated, critics fear this new document heralds a shift in international commitment

to monitoring and improving Cambodian human rights.

Thun Saray, president of local human rights group ADHOC, said: "I worry that

if the UN Commission's resolution is weak, it will affect the attention of the international

community. But it's not finished yet. They [UN] have to continue to provide assistance

and promote human rights in our society."

Saray said the resolution was weak and did not reflect the situation in Cambodia.

"The problem is this is a political document. We see the situation here as very

different."

The UN resolution is in fact a marked contrast to Professor Leuprecht's report on

Cambodian human rights to the Commission on April 19, when he noted the continued

struggle for democracy, rule of law, and human rights.

"It would be a serious mistake if [the international community and the UN] reduced

its commitment to the people of Cambodia who must be able to continue to rely on

the solidarity of the international community," Leuprecht said.

Yet the document is not the first move the UN has made to distance itself from the

monitoring of human rights in Cambodia. The discussion of Cambodian human rights

was removed from the agenda of the UN General Assembly at the end of last year. This

means that the member states will no longer receive reports on human rights conditions

in Cambodia.

Leuprecht strongly criticised the decision at the time. "This... is the result

of a 'deal' which in my view is not based on the realities of the human rights situation

in Cambodia, but on considerations of political expediency," he said.

Sources say Japan was also behind the decision.

The Embassy of Japan's first secretary for political affairs, Fumio Goto, denied

Japan was trying to remove Cambodia from UN human rights discussions. He said he

was unable to comment on the General Assembly decision but said the changes in the

commission resolution reflected Japan's endeavours to keep the document "as

short and focused as possible".

He said the document was shorter because it aimed to concentrate on technical assistance.

The title of the resolution had been changed to reflect this. Where the 2003 resolution

is entitled "Situation of human rights in Cambodia", the 2004 resolution

is entitled "Advisory services and technical cooperation in the field of human

rights".

The other aim was to reflect the progress in improving human rights in Cambodia over

the past decade, Mr Goto said. "We want to focus on the positive elements and

encourage the Cambodian government to improve the human rights situation."

But many doubt the efficacy of "encouragement" and say that removing pressure

from the Cambodian government can only be detrimental.

In an email to the Post, Professor Leuprecht commented: "A weak resolution of

the UN Human Rights Commission might be viewed as an encouragement by those in Cambodia

who are not seriously committed to improving the human rights situation."

One Japanese development worker who declined to be named criticized the absence of

human rights conditions attached to Japanese aid. "[The] Japanese government

has continued to provide bulky aid to Cambodia whatever the human rights situation

is and this gave the Cambodian government confidence not to reform judicial and public

administration system seriously."

Naly Pilorge, director of human rights NGO Licadho, said while the new document would

probably not have immediate day-to-day implications, the change in Japan's attitudes

to human rights that this represented would affect advocacy and lobbying work being

carried out in Cambodia.

Human Rights advocates agree there are still many issues to be addressed and that

debate must continue if Cambodian human rights are to improve.

Pilorge pointed out that while there had been some improvements made in human rights

in the past ten years, issues such as the denial of "very basic" rights

such as the ability to hold peaceful gatherings were still of great concern. "Serious

human rights issues still effect Cambodia. If anything, countries should pay more

attention to Cambodia."

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