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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - UN panel grills Cambodians

Protesters call for the release of imprisoned Boeung Kak community land activists in front of the Appeals Court
Protesters call for the release of imprisoned Boeung Kak community land activists in front of the Appeals Court earlier this year. A Cambodian delegation faced questions over jailed activists in front of a UN panel yesterday. Hong Menea

UN panel grills Cambodians

Sitting in Geneva before a panel of international experts chosen by the UN, Cambodian delegates yesterday did their best to dodge a series of pointed questions regarding the Kingdom’s adherence to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Phrases such as “I don’t know where you got this information” and “I don’t accept that” were uttered, as Cambodian delegation members Mak Sambath, Pol Lim, Ith Rady and Ney Samol repeatedly shrugged off criticisms pertaining to subjects such as domestic violence, prison conditions, LGBT rights and freedom of speech and expression in Cambodia.

Grilling the Kingdom on its own assessment of its performance, the committee sought to ascertain how the Kingdom was adopting the standards laid out in the ICCPR, to which Cambodia is a signatory. Facing a barrage of pointed questions, Cambodia’s delegates responded with equal measures of deniability and rationalisation.

When committee member Anja Seibtert-Fohr stated that 35 per cent of Cambodian women are subject to domestic violence, Sambath – president of the National Human Rights Committee of Cambodia – said that the country “cannot accept” the figure, and that if it were true, it would point to a “chaotic situation in terms of this issue”.

However, the figure was taken from a report from the Cambodian Ministry of Women’s Affairs, said Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC) adviser Billy Tai.

The delegation went on to blame civil society for the lack of progress being made in the country’s human rights sector, while insisting that NGOs must be more responsible in combating domestic violence.

When committee member Yuji Iwasawa asked the delegation about LGBT rights and employment discrimination against such people, delegate Pol Lim later said that LGBT Cambodians are more likely to have “diseases” and thus they tend not seek work.

The panel continued to press, asking the delegation why Cambodia treats ethnic Vietnamese as immigrants rather than citizens, and why the Kingdom insists on incarcerating people with mental health issues rather than providing treatment.

“I want to inform you that the government was elected by the people, and that trust was provided,” Sambath said. “The government must work hard in order to be elected again.”

However, civil society painted a different picture. Earlier this month, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), along with rights groups Adhoc and Licadho delivered a “shadow report” to the HRC.

“More than 20 years have passed since Cambodia’s accession to the ICCPR,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji in a statement delivered earlier this month. “During this entire time, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s administrations have made little or no effort to implement the convention.”

Nicole Buerli, a human rights adviser for the World Organization Against Torture, characterised the government’s approach at the hearing as “very defensive”.

“They just deny any allegations on torture, ill-treatment, and excessive use of force against demonstrators by saying that the committee and NGOs should tell them who tortured [who],” she said.

CHRAC’s Billy Tai said he was unsurprised by the delegation’s tactics.

“This is a typical Cambodian response to any evidence based on allegations,” he said. “The delegation rejected evidence without offering any evidence themselves.”

Due to a translation error during the live webcast of the review session, it was previously written that Pol Lim implied LGBT people have a “disease.” He actually said that LGBT Cambodians are more likely to have “diseases.” The Phnom Penh Post regrets the error.
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