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UN body readies statement


A forthcoming series of recommendations by a UN rights body is unlikely to flatter the government, but civil society groups hope it does not fall on deaf ears.

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The forced eviction of Phnom Penh's Dey Krahorm community in January. Evictions and land issues were the keynote of the May 11-12 UN committee review. 

THE UN's Committee on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights (UNCESCR) is set to release its concluding observations following its review of Cambodia's rights situation in Geneva last week.

While the recommendations, expected today, are unlikely to be flattering - committee members at the May 11-12 hearing grilled the government for its lack of progress - rights groups hope the government will take them on board.

"I hope that the government will take these concluding comments seriously and make reforms to improve the situation of economic, social and cultural rights in Cambodia," said Kek Galabru, president of local rights group Licadho.

The UNCESCR monitors member states' adherence to the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which Cambodia ratified in 1992. But the country's first report to the body, due in 1994, was only received at the end of December.

"The government of Cambodia has ratified this international covenant," Kek Galabru said.

"Ratification means you agree to take this covenant and include everything in national law.... It is time now. It has been 17 years. There is no excuse."

Other observers predicted the UN's recommendations would include a mention of the government's decision to send their ambassador to the UN, Sun Suon, rather than a specialised delegation.

"[T]he person they sent could not answer a single question. I think that is going to get a mention by the observation," said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights.

He added that the government's official submission to the committee, which lacked any reference to forced land evictions, would contrast sharply with that filed by civil society groups.

Skeleton crew

David Pred, country director of international rights organisation Bridges Across Borders, who was present at he hearings, said the committee saw the small delegation as a symbol of the government's dedication to fulfilling its obligations under the ICESCR.

"They were disappointed, as was I, that the government did not send policy experts from Phnom Penh to answer the Committee's questions," he said by email.

"I think an important opportunity for dialogue was missed on issues that are of profound importance to Cambodian people."

Om Yen-tieng, director of the government-run Cambodian Human Rights Committee, said the government had "its own reasons" for not sending a full delegation to Geneva, and that while he respected the UNCESCR, its view of the situation in Cambodia was not accurate.

"I think the criticisms came from individual staff who have never opened their eyes to the facts in Cambodia, but have opened their ears to make an evaluation," he said.

But on the upside, Ou Virak said, recent years had seen the government's growing respect for international opinion on issues such as human rights.

"There seems to be more attention paid now to international instruments, but we're not sure how long this pattern will continue," he said. 



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