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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rights groups mull if they abet crime

Rights groups mull if they abet crime

H

UMAN rights NGOs have debated a common argument in Cambodia - particularly

prevalent in the Untac period - that a byproduct of their work is an increase in

crime.

As Thun Saray, of Adhoc, Cambodia's first human rights

organization, put it: "Some people say: 'Since the Human Rights Organizations

have been born, the number of robbers have increased.'

"Some call the

Human Rights organization as 'the Rights of Robber's Association,' " he

said.

The Khmer Institute of Democracy confronted this issue head-on with

a discussion by heads of Cambodian human rights organizations on the sources of

crime and the connections between human rights and law and order. The discussion

was held at the Cambodiana on Saturday, 1 July and filmed for local TV

broadcast.

Saray said economic hardship, lack of gun-control, corruption

which returns crime suspects to the streets, gambling, dancing bars and

prostitution which are frequented by unemployed young men are causes of the

increase in crime.

"I only point to these reasons in order to avoid the

misunderstanding that while human rights organizations were emerging, robberies

increased simultaneously," he said.

Saray said that another misconception

exists: "Some people think that only Westerners need human rights, and that

human rights is a western idea."

"Everyone needs human rights, like the

rights of property, the right to travel, and the right not to be a slave, or to

have to sell our children into slavery. These are not just the rights of the

Westerners, but the rights of all humans," Saray said.

While Thun Saray

explained why the promotion of human rights was not the cause of increases in

crime, Dr Kek Galabru, President of Licadho tried, in part, to explain what it

is that human rights organizations do and how they help jailed Cambodians

receive justice.

"One of the jobs of the human rights organizations is to

watch. If there is violence we help. Our organizations have no right or power to

release an arrested person. But we can help bring his or her case to court for a

fair judgement. In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights it says: 'The

person alleged to have committed a crime is considered innocent until proven

guilty.' The court is open to the public, and there should be a lawyer to help

in the defense.

"Some of the people we defend are really robbers, thieves

or murderers. We do not defend them in order to have them released, but only to

ensure that they have their rights in court. The court can then try them and

jail them legally. But some journalists have written that human rights

organizations protect robbers," Galabru said.

Dr Galabru told a story to

illustrate how her organization has helped people who have complaints against

authorities, and their provision of defense even to malefactors.

"In a

province, whose name I do not dare say, authorities have arrested and detained

innocent people in order to demand money.

"The demands were as high as 10

or 15 damleungs of gold ($5-$7,500). If the innocent people refused, some were

killed. We helped local people to make complaints in the case, and followed the

files to the court and to the judge. In one case the judge called the malefactor

to the court, and we helped by providing for his defense.

"When he was

convicted, we followed to watch him being jailed. But one day we found that he

had been released [by the Provincial authorities]. Do we really protect the

malefactor or robber? There are many provinces in which we help innocent people

who are arrested and jailed. We take their cases to court and they are found

innocent."

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