The rights and freedoms enjoyed by Cambodians today were “liberated” after Pol Pot’s genocidal Khmer Rouge regime was successfully overthrown on January 7, 1979, Prime Minister Hun Sen said on the occasion of the 73rd International Day of Human Rights on December 10.
In a Facebook post, Hun Sen said these rights and freedoms allow people to live the life and undertake the works big and small that they desire, choose any religion or belief, and vote for their favourite leaders. This has driven overall prosperity in the Kingdom, he said.
“Under the genocidal regime of Pol Pot, from 1975-1979, people had no rights or freedoms at all, no right to life, no right to food, no right to medical treatment, no right to religion, no right to education, no right to elect representatives and no right to express views, no right to marry and no right to work, and so forth,” he added.
The prime minister stressed that the regime – which people knew simply as Angkar or “the organisation” – abolished all individual rights and forced the population, young and old alike, to work long arduous hours till sickness or death, without access to medicine or treatment.
The regime left “more than three million people dead” after just three years, eight months and 20 days, he said.
Kem Sokha, former leader of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, shares the prime minister’s view that human rights are “priceless”.
The former opposition leader is well-versed and well-practiced in human rights issues and has first-hand experience in the field locally, regionally and in the international arena.
“Human rights are a global issue that requires active engagement, support, respect and protection for the sake of all mankind. They are a necessity for human survival and cannot be forfeited,” Sokha said, arguing that humans, as a higher-order consciousness species, are also entitled to dignity.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948, just over three years after the end of World War II, signalling a global consensus that respect for and protection of human rights would form the foundation of peace and prosperity, he said.
“Failure to recognise the value of human rights or respect others' rights – especially in the form of human rights violations – is the root cause of all conflicts, which have the potential to escalate into war, leading to human suffering and devastation, and the destruction of peace,” Sokha said.
He added that hostilities triggered by human rights abuses could also impact other countries or populations, a concern he said prompted the UN to flag human rights as a global issue that can be monitored by the outside world, and violations of which may be condemned by observers.
“Therefore, the support or protection of human rights cannot be considered interference in internal affairs or a violation of sovereignty. Having recognised and championed the value of human rights, I have for the last three decades prioritised human rights work, regardless of what my position on any matters may be,” Sokha said.
He emphasised that to guarantee peace, stability and solid social progress, everyone must work together to support, respect and protect basic human rights.