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Jeldres speaks out before departing

Julio Jeldres, founder of Khmer Institute Democracy and the King's official biographer, spoke at the Foreign Correspondents' Club on the eve of his departure. Following are excerpts from his speech:

On his departure

I am leaving because I love this country and I don't like to see it the way it is...(with) racketeers who care more about their pockets than the state of the country.

On constitutional development and the National Assembly

The National Assembly still conveys the very distinctive impression of not viewing itself as a branch of government which has equal status to that of the executive.

The National Assembly has yet to take up the role of a debating chamber... where legislation is assessed, debated and amended before it becomes law.

Fortunately, there is a small group of parliamentarians taking their role seriously and actively working for changes. I would single out Mr Kem Sokha and the National Assembly's commission on Human Rights for the remarkable work they have undertaken. I urge the international community to give the Commission the necessary means to continue and enhance its work.

On independence of the judiciary

If Cambodia is to enjoy a true democracy, it must have a truly independent judiciary. Yet the signs are that the party that came second at last year's election does not wish to relinquish the influence it has had on the judiciary for almost 14 years.

The current draft law on the Supreme Council of Magistracy, which gives the Minister of Justice, a CPP member, the power to hire, fire and promote judges, is a typical example of the approach taken by the government and in particular by the hard-liners of the CPP on this crucial issue.

On corruption

Today's Cambodia crawls with greed and corruption at the highest levels...

While it is true that the most developed and stable societies are not free from corruption scandals, in the case of Cambodia, because of its presence at all levels of public management, it will ensure that the rehabilitation process and proper foreign investment is slow to take hold.

Corruption creates resentment and inequality and helps dissatisfied people to fall under the spell of the Khmer Rouge's propaganda.

On the Khmer Rouge and how to fight them

The KR remain a significant challenge to Cambodia's democracy.

It has been said, ad nauseam, that rural development is the best weapon against the KR, yet the Ministry of Rural Development is one of the poorest, with few if any professional officers and even less equipment. During a resent visit to the Ministry, I observed that it does not have even a generator to allow staff to work when there is no city electricity, which is often.

Many thinking Cambodians are wondering whether the government is not exploiting the Khmer Rouge threat in order to ensure that it secures foreign military assistance.

The recent purchase of tanks from Eastern Europe, is the perfect example of government priorities being mistaken. If the millions of dollars Cambodia has to pay for those tanks had only been used to give a proper budget and facilities to the Ministry of Rural Development...

On the army

The Cambodian army suffers from widespread reported corruption, lack of discipline and professionalism.

Much has been said about the need to restructure the army but the government does not seem to be willing to undertake such restructuring.

I fear some Western countries, in particular Australia, France and the United States, are rushing to provide military training without getting the necessary changes the army requires. Others, like Indonesia, Poland and Czechoslovakia are selling arms and equipment to the Cambodian government without taking into consideration that these arms and equipment may well end up in the hands of the KR.

On freedom of the press

Since the Paris Agreements Cambodians have enjoyed the freedom to read newspapers published both at home and abroad. The local Cambodian press has flourished but its quality leaves a lot to be desired.

Several journalists have lost their lives in the struggle for freedom of the press. Others have been arrested because of articles they have published.

The government has recently sent to the National Assembly a draft press law which is draconian both in its wording and penalties. Yet, the embassy in Phnom Penh of the big superpower has been telling NGOs and visiting journalists that it has "no policy" on the draft law.

Freedom of the press is the foundation of democracy and the signatories of the Paris Agreements, as guarantors of these freedoms, are making an historical mistake by not encouraging the Cambodian government to delete the criminal penalties of the draft.

On foreign countries' attitude toward HR

Some weeks ago, my colleagues of the Human Rights Action Committee were told by the Ambassador of the United States that they should not "be so active in condemning the authorities for violations of human rights and that they should be balanced in their activities". Other US diplomats have told us that we should compare the current violations of human rights with those of the past! In my humble opinion, human rights violations are human rights violations whether they happen yesterday, today or tomorrow.

I respectfully suggest that some of the signatories of the Paris Agreements, in particular Australia, France, Japan and the United States are abdicating the responsibilities they assumed when they signed the Agreements, which clearly state that "Cambodia's tragic recent history requires special measures to assure protection of human rights".

On positive signs

I am greatly encouraged by the outstanding work done by my colleagues of the human rights groups, particularly in the areas of police training, care of prisoners, training of KR defectors, etc. Their difficult work has not been encouraged by the silence the principal signatories of the Paris Agreements have kept on the issue of human rights and democracy in Cambodia.

Last but not least, I am also very much encouraged by the leading role played by his Majesty the King in protecting and nurturing the new freedoms enjoyed by Cambodians.

His Majesty has constantly taken the side of local journalists who have been arrested and foreign journalists who have been declared "persona non grata" by the government, and generally promoted awareness and respect for human rights.



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