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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Ranariddh's 'democratic priorities' questioned

Ranariddh's 'democratic priorities' questioned

P RINCE Norodom Ranariddh's defense of the 'food-first-democracy-later' concept

signaled a dangerous departure from the government 's commitment to uphold

democratic values, according to the Khmer Institute of Democracy

(KID).

"This statement has departed from what our leaders agreed upon in

1991, 1992 and 1993 in the forms of the Paris Peace Agreements, the

International Covenant and Convention on Human Rights and our Constitution," KID

president Dr Lao Mong Hay told the Post.

"I may say that this is a

dangerous departure, and for Funcinpec, it's quite a departure from what its

founder-leader [then Prince Norodom Sihanouk] stated in 1982."

Mong Hay

was responding to an eight-page statement issued by the First Prime Minister on

Aug 3 addressing a wide range of criticisms made of the Royal

government.

Ranariddh, strongly denying that the government was becoming

undemocratic, urged its critics to understand what was most important to the

Khmer people.

"Democracy means food for the people's stomachs, shelter,

education, medical facilities and basic amenities and the freedom to express and

move freely. This is democracy in the Cambodian sense."

He said that to

millions of poor rural people "democracy is just a phrase to be talked about in

idle gossip. It does not ensure food for their stomach nor an end to their

plight.

"... When the rural poor people have sufficient food, shelter,

education and basic amenities, then democracy can be preached and installed in

abundance."

On the press, Ranariddh supported the idea of a free,

self-regulated press but said that the "western brand of democracy and freedom

of the press is not applicable to Cambodia."

It is not the first time

that Ranariddh has made such comments. As recently as July 3 he had compared

democracy and a free press to a suit which "we have to redo or trim in order to

fit ourselves", but his written statement marked the most comprehensive

declaration of his views to date.

What prompted the statement is unclear,

though it referred to "critical and unfair" articles by local and foreign

journalists. It was dated on the eve of United States Secretary of State Warren

Christopher's one-day visit to Cambodia, but did not become public until after

he had left.

Lao Mong Hay acknowledged that Ranariddh's comments were

part of a democratic debate about Cambodia, but said it sounded like a broken

promise.

"It's a departure from what has been promised - there's the

question of promise and delivery. It is very dangerous when the delivery is not

the same as the promise," said Mong Hay.

"Democracy is democracy, human

rights are human rights. To KID, there is no Western democracy or Eastern

democracy. It's democracy."

Thun Saray, president of Cambodian Human

Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), said the issue of having enough food

to eat had to be considered along with the other rights such as to be protected

from violence.

"It does not lead anywhere [to consider] the right to eat

alone... We cannot stay alive just by having enough to eat while being short of

civil and political rights and being physically abused without

protection."

Australian judge Michael Kirby, the UN Secretary-General's

Special Representative on Human Rights in Cambodia, would not be drawn on his

view of Ranariddh's statements.

Speaking at a press conference on Aug 15,

at the end of a 12-day Cambodian visit, Kirby said he had been unable to meet

with Ranariddh to discuss democracy and human rights issues.

"The first

Prime Minister expressed his views [in the statement] in a typically

wide-ranging, forthright and bold manner.

"Unfortunately his busy

commitments have not allowed him to see me on this visit and I therefore haven't

had the opportunity of exploring with him in more detail the thoughts that he

expressed.

"....but the issues he dealt with - the... expulsions from the

National Assembly, logging, freedom of the press, democracy - won't go

away.

"They'll still be here when I come again and I will take the

occasion then to explore whether the First Prime Minister still holds to all of

the views he expressed and I will be happy to discuss with him the way in which

those views are reconciled with the universal obligations that exist within the

UN conventions and which have been adopted in the constitution of the Kingdom of

Cambodia."

Kirby said the UN had determined that there was "no cultural

or ethnic exception" from international obligations to protect human

rights.

But individual rights - such as that of freedom of expression and

that of the right to privacy - often had to compete with each

other.

Kirby was quizzed over whether he believed Cambodia was following

a Malaysian-style of democracy, with Ranariddh expounding views similar to those

of Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

He replied: "There is a

tendency in Western countries to think that human rights are about policemen,

courts, prisons and matters of that kind.

"But human rights as seen by

the UN, and often articulated from Asia, is a much broader mosaic. It includes

the right to health, the right to work, the right to housing and the right to

food. If the dichotomy suggested is between those Westerners who think the only

human rights are the right to free expression and the right not to get arrested,

then I'm with Dr Mahathir and the First Prime Minister of this

country.

"Because there is no doubt that having food in your stomach and

clean water to drink are more important to more people than the other

issues.

"But... all of these human rights are vital, important and have

to given weight. In terms of government priorities, no doubt the government here

will set its own agenda."

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