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Good Ideas on Human Rights

Local human rights activists produced a plethora of valuable recommendations designed

to establish long-term human rights safeguards in Cambodia during a recent three

day symposium sponsored by UNTAC's Human Rights Component.

However, after wrestling with how to protect the Khmer people from "policies

and practices of the past" as well other egregious violations of human rights

committed by any of the other signatories to the Paris Peace Accords, deep concern

was expressed by participants as to whether the Constituent Assembly's constitutional

drafting committee or the new government would take sufficient measures to implement

the activist's proposed plans of action.

The three-day event entitled "The Second International Symposium on Human Rights

in Cambodia" brought together more that 80 human rights activists from Cambodia

and 15 other countries around the world. It was another in a long series of activities

by the U.N.'s Human Rights Component designed to bring attention to perhaps one of

the Paris Peace Plan's greatest weaknesses: that being the question of how Cambodia,

and especially those Khmer outside of the new, still shifting circles of power, cope-possibly

on their own-with the long, tragic history of domestic violence once UNTAC leaves

the country.

UNTAC Human Rights, to its credit, has known from the beginning that if it, and the

U.N. in general, was to have any impact on Cambodia, one of the main tasks from day

one was to prepare for UNTAC's departure, to lay the basis for a long-term sustained

assault on an environment and culture permeated by injustice.

Regrettably, some of UNTAC's other components have been more focused on how to get

"the job" done, pack their bags and get out of the country safely (with

per diem in pocket) before all hell broke loose. Some of the folks in Human Rights

have been known to grumble about less than adequate support from the rest of "The

Mission."

The symposium tackled three main themes, each with the purpose of shedding light

on an area of concern around which the nascent Khmer human rights NGOs could focus.

In their turn, day-by-day, the issues of democracy, reconciliation and development

were discussed and debated.

Outside experts from India, the Philippines, Thailand, Sri lanka, Japan and Canada

among others were brought in to share relevant experiences, after which the representatives

of the five new Khmer human rights NGOs or those speaking for some of the other newly

established non-profit associations were given the floor to respond.

At the very least the symposium allowed some of the associations which were permitted

to blossom under the UNTAC pluralistic window of opportunity to have their say. How

many people know that Cambodia now has an Association for Khmer Writers, a Khmer

Highlanders Association, a Khmer Kampuchea Krom Association, a Khmer Students Association

or a Khmer Youth Development Association? Two years ago such entities were unheard

of, not to mention illegal.

All of these locally established NGOs are still trying not only to get their feet

on the ground but, more importantly, to figure out how they will survive in the future

and adequately represent their members concerns.

Wide open debate consumed the symposium's three mornings; each afternoon was dedicated

to giving the Cambodians a closed-door session by themselves to thrash out what should

or could be done to protect and plan for action in the subject area under consideration.

The list of recommendations produced on what should be done is enormous and well

worth close scrutiny, not to mention the good ideas that were voiced but which weren't

included in the final written reports. A Freedom of Information Act, a National Commission

on Human Rights, an independent judiciary, a Bill of Rights - those were some of

the big ideas put forth and argued for forcefully by the Khmer participants.

As just a snapshot of the detail about which Cambodian human rights activists in

the symposium felt strongly, the following recommendations from Day 2 are instructive:

"The Constitution should contain Directive Principles of State Policy laying

down that it is the duty of the State to ensure social justice to the people and

to bring about equitable distribution of the material resources of the community.

The land shall belong to the tiller of the soil who must have the rights of ownership

including rights of inheritance and transfer, and there shall be no concentration

of land in the hands of a few to the detriment of the many."

"Corruption at all levels of the government must be eliminated. After taking

the oath, the Members of the Parliament must declare the assets held in their own

names, the name of their wives, children and other near relatives. A Standing Joint

Parliamentary Committee should be established to enquire into compliance of corruption

amongst Ministers and Members of parliament. Property illegally acquired by Ministers,

Members of Parliament and government servants should be confiscated by the State."

"There should be a provision in the Constitution that seizure of power by extra-constitutional

means, or by the use of force in violation of the constitutional provisions, shall

be an offence punishable by life imprisonment."

"This symposium condemns all violations of human rights and particularly summary

executions and extra-judicial killings, illegal arrests and detentions, and torture

committed by any member of the police or armed forces or by any government official.

The symposium recommends that those responsible for such acts must be brought to

trial immediately and appropriately punished, and a provision to this effect should

be incorporated in the constitution."

The symposium produced six typewritten pages of equally hardhitting detail. UNTAC

will no doubt produce a final report and copies will be distributed widely. Whether

or not the constitutional drafting committee with its five weeks left to draft a

final product will incorporate any of the symposium's recommendation remains to be

seen.

The advice of one member of the constitutional drafting committee who spoke to the

symposium may not have given the human rights activists much cause for comfort. He

said if people had ideas on what should be incorporated in the charter they should

mail them to the Assembly.

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