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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Heroin and rights

Heroin and rights

The Editor,

National Police Deputy, Noun Soeur, who was sacked from his

post recently told press that 600 kilograms of heroin is trafficked through

Phnom Penh from Myanmar and Laos each week. Meanwhile, the human rights groups

are concerned about the threats made to the members of the Parliamentary

Commission on Human Rights and Complaints to the effect that it will be

abolished. Perhaps these two aspects are linked.

Giving reasons for the

inability to arrest heroin traffickers, Noun Soeur told the press: "My policemen

lack equipment and experience and the smugglers are rich and have high-ranking

officials behind them."

Human rights organizations have constantly

complained since 1992 that Cambodian police need training and experience. There

had been some training courses too. However, resistance to providing such

training has been more political, than due to lack of resources. From 1975 to

the May 1993 United Nations-supervised elections, most of the Cambodian society

was controlled by a single political party which exercised direct influence on

every aspect of life. Though the political system was theoretically changed by

the introduction of a new constitution recognizing the separation of powers in

September 1993, there had been a great reluctance to introduce any institutions

that work on the basis of law and not on personal instructions.

Human

rights groups have constantly emphasized the need to develop laws and encourage

the respect for law. In fact, the Parliamentary Commission on Human Rights and

Complaints gets complaints regularly on gross abuse of human rights (last year

over 1,000) but is unable to do much about them as there are no legal procedures

to hold anyone accountable. The investigations into heroin smuggling face the

same problem. Perhaps, one redeeming feature is that there are more and more

people who openly express their dissatisfaction on what is going on in their

society, something that Cambodians feared to do just three years back.

Sometimes, protests are rather strong. On the 8th of August 1995, Kandal MP Meas

Chan Leap committed suicide inside the National Assembly to emphasize the need

for protecting democracy within a political party. His friends say that Chan

Leap, who lived in Japan for 20 years, meant his suicide as an act of honor

against a cynical political situation growing in his country - after an election

which evoked much hope. The event has provoked much more internal dissent,

calling for a society that respects rule of law and holds honor as a political

virtue. If this does not happen soon, there may be a threat to the Southeast

Asia's attempt to control the production and distribution of narcotics.

- Basil Fernando, Executive Director, Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong

Kong.

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