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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Leuprecht's report to UN slams PM, government

Leuprecht's report to UN slams PM, government

The following is the full statement by Peter Leuprecht, Special Representative

of the Secretary-General for human rights in Cambodia, to the 61st Session of

the Commission on Human Rights, held in Geneva on 19 April,

2005.

Mr. Chairperson,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We all prefer to convey and to receive good rather than bad news. In the

nearly five years I have acted as Special Representative of the

Secretary-General for human rights in Cambodia, I have made every effort to

report objectively on the realities of this country and to help it, through the

endeavours of the international community and my own endeavours, to overcome its

terrible past and to make progress on the way to respect for human rights, rule

of law and pluralistic democracy. Sometimes I felt there was some light at the

end of the Cambodian tunnel, and I reported accordingly. I regret to say that

this time I have little good news to report.

After a political deadlock

that lasted almost a year, a new coalition government was established last July.

The conditions under which this was done are, to say the least, doubtful from

the constitutional and legal point of view and do not demonstrate a willingness

of those in power to abide by the rule of law. Measures taken since against the

opposition violate fundamental principles of pluralist democracy. There is also

a virtual clampdown on freedom of peaceful assembly, and "public space" is

steadily shrinking. What we are witnessing at present unfortunately does not

demonstrate progress on the road to democracy, rule of law and respect for human

rights, but an increasingly autocratic form of government and growing

concentration of power in the hands of the Prime Minister behind a shaky facade

of democracy.

I have repeatedly addressed two interrelated phenomena

that are deeply engrained in the present Cambodian system: impunity and

corruption.

Impunity is a gangrene that undermines the fabric of

Cambodian society. Although this phenomenon is well-documented, the Prime

Minister and his government persist, in an ostrich-like way, to deny it and to

say it does not exist in Cambodia, but in other countries such as Thailand. The

truth is that mechanisms for accountability are not in place in Cambodia and, as

a result, the rule of law remains elusive.

Impunity fosters endemic

corruption which remains a recurring obstacle in establishing the rule of law

and in achieving economic and social development for all Cambodians and not for

a small minority of politically or economically powerful people.

For the

majority of Cambodians poverty has not been reduced. Most of the population is

clustered around the poverty line. A growing number of people who have nothing

to lose is a leaven of unrest in any society.

The neo-colonial policy of

concessions is a failure and should be reconsidered. It shows no regard for the

human rights and welfare of the people concerned. I had welcomed the Prime

Minister's speech of 18 October 2004, in which he announced that the granting of

further contracts for economic land concessions would be suspended until the

necessary legislation is in place and effective. On this issue, the Prime

Minister has made a spectacular and highly regrettable u-turn, in a speech on 14

March 2005. All information on concessions which strongly affect the lives of

Cambodians should be put in the public domain.

There is one piece of good

news: the long overdue Khmer Rouge trials should begin soon. The Cambodian

people rightly want to know the truth about that horrible period of their

history, and they want justice to be done. The Khmer Rouge tribunal must be a

model of respect for the principles of fair trial. If it is, it could have

positive long-term consequences for the administration of justice in Cambodia.

The corrupt and opaque power structures, inequality before the law,

impunity, collusion and lack of transparency and accountability are among the

main obstacles in the way of genuine democracy, rule of law and human rights -

all human rights for all Cambodians. These obstacles must be tackled and

overcome, and we must see genuine, not lip service efforts on the part of the

Government to do so. Otherwise, liberation from fear and want, proclaimed in the

preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, will remain a perpetually

unfulfilled promise for the people of Cambodia.

The international

community and your Commission are faced with a serious responsibility. To be

useful and effective, to help Cambodians out of the tunnel, the resolution you

will adopt should be based on the facts as they are and not as you would wish

them to be.

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