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Delegation remains defiant on rights to UN panel

A boy works at a brick kiln on the outskirts of Phnom Penh
A boy works at a brick kiln on the outskirts of Phnom Penh last year. Cambodia was yesterday questioned by a UN panel on political rights in Geneva over the Kingdom's commitment to the reduction of child labour in the country. Hong Menea

Delegation remains defiant on rights to UN panel

Cambodia remained defiant in its second day of human rights questioning in Geneva yesterday, as its delegation fended off pointed queries into issues ranging from child labour to the forced extraction of confessions.

Delegation members Mak Sambath, Pol Lim, Ith Rady and Ney Samol defended the Kingdom’s adherence to various aspects of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) under questioning from a UN-appointed panel of international experts.

At the beginning of the session, the delegation – who had responded to the previous day’s questioning with phrases such as “I don’t know where you got this information” and “I don’t accept that” – assured them of its commitment to human rights.

“We respond, we cooperate, we coordinate with the committee; we never ignore it,” said Samol, following assurances from the panel that the process is “an exercise of dialogue” rather than a court hearing.

But, referring to issues of gender imbalance, the vows of commitment quickly shifted into an attack.

“How many secretary generals of the UN are women? From my understanding, it’s none,” Samol said.

Billy Tai, an adviser at the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC) who observed yesterday’s session, said there was a more “icy tone” to the proceedings than the previous day.

“It felt like the committee members were losing patience with the lack of answers provided by the Cambodian delegation,” he explained.

And, he said, the Cambodian delegation’s “adversarial” approach suggested that the process would not breed change.

“I’m not optimistic that they will take this opportunity to meaningfully respect and implement the concluding observations. [Many] of their comments are flat denials ... the delegation was more on the attack.”

Among the issues raised in yesterday’s session were questions about the efforts being taken to eradicate child labour.

In response, Rady said parents were often responsible for taking their children to work with them, meaning that they, as well as the employer, should be prosecuted.

But “if we arrest the factory owners, the parents and the children, what happens next?” he asked.

Regarding the issue of forced confessions, Rady said it was difficult to determine the validity of allegations before sending the case to trial.

If someone says “police forced me to answer like that, how can you believe that?” he said, in a response the committee found “slightly troubling”.

The delegation also defended legislature denying prisoners their right to vote.

“The term prisoner [means] the convicted person. That convicted person has no right to vote according to Cambodian law, and I think Cambodian law is not strange or exceptional compared to other international laws,” said Samol.

Under other lines of questioning, the delegation assured that the Kingdom was acting in the interest of human rights.

The delegation has 48 hours to respond to remaining questions and offer any other remarks, but Tai said he was “not hopeful they will provide a meaningful response”.

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