I write to comment on the concerns expressed by the government of Cambodia regarding the upcoming hearing on human rights in Cambodia by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, reported by The Phnom Penh Post on September 2, 2009 ["US hearing 'absolutely unfair': govt"].
The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission - formally the Congressional Human Rights Commission founded in 1983 by the late Congressman Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor to serve in the US Congress - is an eminent commission co-chaired by congressmen from both the majority and minority parties.
The eight members of the executive committee of the commission are also equally divided and represented, and the rules of a congressional hearing ensure mandatory consultations with the minority party. Unfortunately, such practice and respect for democratic principles is not the case in the National Assembly of the Kingdom of Cambodia, where all nine commissions are chaired and represented solely by the Cambodian People's Party through the practice of winner-takes-all.
The September 10 congressional hearing is organised to address concerns of US lawmakers over the widespread crackdowns on critics of the Cambodian government and the use of the judiciary as a tool to silence the voice of the opposition.
It is also because the Cambodian government has demonstrated insignificant acknowledgment to recommendations issued by the US State Department, UN bodies, donor governments, civil society and the opposition for democratic, legal and just resolutions to conflicts.
As mandated by the US Congress, the commission is nobly fulfilling its mission by holding hearings that are open to the public. Educating members of Congress and their staff on human rights is part of the mission of the commission, and it is through these public hearings that the US has made improvements on its human rights records; and, as in other countries, this mechanism of checks and balances helps prevent serious forms of human rights violations, including corruption in the state system.
The US contribution to Cambodia is more than US$50 million per year. The US Congress should be aware of how this aid is benefiting the people of Cambodia. The US government, through its embassy, communicates with the government of Cambodia on a regular basis. Congressional delegations also visit Cambodia on a regular basis.
It is rather interesting to note the comment of the spokesman of the Foreign Ministry in Cambodia, calling the hearing "absolutely unfair" while the ministry officially warned all governments providing assistance to Cambodia against interfering in the "internal affairs" of Cambodia following recent public remarks, made by the US ambassador to Cambodia, on corruption.
Furthermore, the Foreign Ministry attacked the US State Department's 2008 annual human rights report as "hypocritical and politically motivated" because the report outlines US concerns over Cambodia's poor human rights record. The labelling and unresponsive statements to outside reports are a practice of the government and, at times, even go beyond respect for world leaders renowned for their commitment to the defence of human rights.
The statement of the president of the Cambodian National Committee on Human Rights, in this quote by the Deutsche Presse-Agentur in 2000, illustrates the attitude of the Cambodian government: "It is simply not true. Cambodia is not like he says. It is beneath Cambodia to respond to people like this," he said, referring to professor Yash Ghai, former envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. It should also be remembered that the Cambodian government even failed to send a high level delegation to meet with the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Geneva this past May.
Sustainable solutions for sustainable development to a post-conflict nation such as Cambodia cannot be achieved with technical and financial assistance alone. The rights of the people to receive basic services such as health care and education, decent housing, titles to land and their freedom to express opinions are part of development principles and ethics and the code of conduct for civil servants and public figures to accept and to uphold. Effective mechanisms of accountability and political will for reforms have been lacking in Cambodia and the chance of dialogue for constructive resolutions almost entirely shut.
When elected representatives of the people are pursued in court or publicly humiliated or denounced by using state institutions, including the courts, to protect wrongdoings of the state, with no venues to remedy these malpractices, Cambodia as a whole is the victim. The systematic denial of the violations of human rights hurts the people and the interests of the nation while providing total protection and reinforcement to violators of human rights, whether they be private individuals, civil servants or politicians.
Finally, it is regrettable that the Foreign Ministry spokesman sees no chance that the situation on human rights will improve after the hearing. Does he mean there are violations of human rights in Cambodia after all?
Mu Sochua, MP
Sam Rainsy Party
Send letters to: email@example.com or PO Box 146, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Post reserves the right to edit letters to a shorter length.
The views expressed above are solely the author's and do not reflect any positions taken by The Phnom Penh Post.