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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Human Rights: The reports: what they say and what they don't

Human Rights: The reports: what they say and what they don't

CAMBODIA'S performance at its first reporting meeting with the United Nations

Human Rights Committee (HRC) has drawn fire from rights groups, who say the

government was unprepared - and perhaps unwilling - to discuss its human rights


When the government's designated representative failed to appear

before the HRC in New York City to answer questions about Cambodia's compliance

with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Committee

adjourned the whole proceeding until July.

Cambodia was slated to answer

the HRC's questions on Mar 30, 1999. The government requested a delay one week

before the session, which was granted.

At the new Apr 7 session, Om Yen

Tieng, head of the National Human Rights Committee and adviser to Prime Minister

Hun Sen, failed to appear. A representative from Cambodia's UN mission arrived

and explained that Yen Tieng had fallen ill on the West Coast.


the Post traced Yen Tieng to the Oyada Travel Agency in Long Beach, California.

An employee who answered the phone on Apr 7 said Yen Tieng was out "picking up

some papers". On the morning of Apr 8, the employee said Yen Tieng was "out

running errands".

Asked where he was on Apr 7, Yen Tieng said: "They can

check everything. I was sick." Told of the conversation with the travel agency,

he said: "They want to make problems, they say what they want."

In Yen

Tieng's absence, the UN Committee attempted to ask their specific, pointed and

well-researched questions of his replacement, Sun Suon. By his own admission, he

was not prepared to answer, despite the fact that the HRC gives its questions to

governments up to several weeks ahead of time.

The Lawyers Committee for

Human Rights observed the session and slammed the government's performance. "By

failing to prepare, the government delayed [the process of dialogue] and

diminished its own ability to demonstrate its good faith," said Robert Weiner,

Director of Protection.

When the UN Committee asked: "What mechanisms are

in place to promote the independence of the judiciary, and to ensure that they

have no political allegiance and that they are provided with adequate training

and resources? What measures of protection exist for magistrates subjected to

intimidation? How are instances of corruption in the administration of justice

investigated? Please give examples," Suon reportedly began: "I am unable to

answer this in any detail."

The Committee, in a step called "unusual" by

rights groups, adjourned the session - which lasted only 10 minutes - and

rescheduled it for July, as the question period appeared pointless.


Lawyers Committee said in a statement it "regrets" the session did not take

place. It noted the significance of the Covenant, and underlined that Cambodia's

commitments to report to the HRC "are serious and should be honored".


human rights matters, the government's track record with international

institutions has been spotty," said Weiner. "The international community has

given Cambodia a lot of rope in recognition of the difficulties inherent in

rebuilding a society and a government in the wake of genocide. It is time,

however, for the government to use deeds, not words, to demonstrate its

commitment to human rights."

Several representatives of local rights

groups had flown to New York to brief the Committee prior to the abortive Mar 30

session. One called the whole situation "truly disappointing".

"The human

rights system functions best when all actors make a concerted effort to address

the issues seriously," Weiner noted. "The UN experts were ready; the NGOs had

worked hard and traveled great distances. The government, unfortunately,


One member of the UN Committee reportedly suggested to Sun

Suon that the Cambodian government prepare written answers to the Committee's

questions for the July session "in case of another sudden illness".


Amnesty International's experience, Committee members are serious people who

care about upholding the rights guaranteed by the ICCPR," said Amnesty's Demelza

Stubbings. "There would be no point to the process if a government's report were

accepted at face value, no questions asked."

Under the International

Convention on Civil and Political Rights, governments must make a written report

on their protection of human rights within one year of signing the treaty.

Cambodia signed in 1993 but did not submit its report until Nov 1997.

Although it was three years late, rights groups called the 400-paragraph

report incomplete as it makes no mention of several glaring incidents of

political violence.

In a section which addresses the right to life, the

government report details a number of killings carried out by the Khmer Rouge,

but not any of the over 80 killings documented by the UN around the time of the

July 1997 coup, still unsolved.

In the section on freedom of assembly,

the government describes the 1995 grenade attack on the offices of the Buddhist

Liberal Democratic Party, which killed no one, but not the March 30, 1997

grenade attack on an opposition rally which killed at least 16. Both remain


Ith Rady, a member of the interministerial committee, said the

report was finalized in September 1996 and thus did not include incidents after

that, such as the grenade attack or the coup.

Updates to reports are not

required by the UN Human Rights Committee, but its followup questions - the ones

Om Yen Tieng was slated to answer - always address the rights situation to date,

experts say.

"A government which chooses not to prepare for questions on

everything that has happened to date risks looking pretty foolish ... the HRC's

job is not to take reports at face value," said one longtime Cambodia analyst.

"It is not rocket science to work out that there were major holes in the

govern-ment's report - even if one accepts that they submitted in good


In contrast, UN rights envoy Thomas Hammarberg submitted a

separate report to a different UN body which highlighted government inaction on

political violence.

Hammarberg's report, given to the UN Commission on

Human Rights in Geneva this month, cites UN reports of 130 deaths or

disappearances since March 30, 1997. He mentions by name the case of Ho Sok,

Secretary of State for Interior, who was killed inside the Ministry during the

July 1997 coup.

In his strongest language to date, Hammarberg wrote that

he "has the distinct impression that serious investigations into the grenade

attack, the killings and the other murder attempts have indeed been blocked by

powerful elements within the police and the military".

The rights envoy

also continued his campaign against article 51 of the Law on Civil Servants,

saying it "in reality institutionalizes impunity". The article prohibits

prosecution of civil servants (including police or military, who are often

accused of abuses in Cambodia) without Ministry permission.


government rights report, which was drafted by the Interministerial Committee on

Reporting Obligations, does not mention article 51 as an impediment to ensuring

victims' right to a remedy for human rights violations.

However, the

government does point out other problems in Cambodia's judicial system which

Hammarberg has also cited.

"[P]ractice has shown that, owing to

interference and pressure from other branches, the courts are not fully

independent," the government writes, noting that judges and witnesses may be

intimidated or bribed. "Interference. . . most often takes the form of pressure,

obstruction of proceedings and threats by those in power. . ."


and the government also both acknowledge longstanding problems of police torture

in exacting confessions from suspects, of the continued use of leg irons and

shackles in prisons, and that suspects are sometimes held without charge or

trial longer than is stipulated in law.

In addition, they both note

women's lack of participation in the labor force, especially in politics.

Hammarberg writes that women's opportunities are constrained partly by "what

appears to be discrimination against them."

On the other hand, the

government states flatly: "The limited participation of women in politics is not

the result of discrimination. It is mainly due to the fact that women have

traditionally taken little interest in politics."



Denied he evaded a UN session where he was to defend Cambodia's

performance in preventing and punishing human rights abuses.




"[I have] the distinct impression that serious investigations

have indeed been blocked by powerful elements within the police and the








Notes 130 unsolved

deaths/disappearances since 3/30/97?



Notes unsolved 3/30/97 grenade

attack, 16 dead/100+ injured?



Notes unsolved 7/97 murder of

H.E. Ho Sok in Interior Ministry?



Notes courts not independent

corruption/intimidation of judges?



Mentions art. 51, notes it

insitutionalizes impunity?



Notes police torture/inhumane

prison treatment/illegal detention?



Notes lack of womenís

participation in politics?



Notes discrimination against

ethnic minorities?




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