Pervasive land grabbing and the calculated erosion of political opponents consistently
surfaced in five damming end-of-year reports from major local and international human
"There is not even a semblance of rule of law in country," said Basil Fernando,
director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, said. "It is not the law that
is king; it is the prime minister who is king in this country."
The last year has seen a distinct centralization of political control, said one Western
diplomat on condition of anonymity.
"Practically everything is controlled by one party," the diplomat said.
"The CPP control the government, the National Assembly, the Senate, 99 percent
of the village chiefs, the provincial government. Their influence goes through the
judiciary, through the police. There should be a much stronger balance of power and
system of checks and balances."
If a state does not adhere to the rule of law and is unfettered by checks and balances,
power will be exercised in a way that makes human rights violations, such as those
documented over the course of 2006, an inevitability, said Fernando.
"Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely," he said. "In
Cambodia there is naked repression, there is no protection: law is unable to protect
[citizens], the courts are unable to protect, the police [force] is a direct instrument
of the powers that be."
The political opposition has been weakened considerably over 2006, said a year-end
Human Rights Watch report.
"Cambodia's veneer of political pluralism wore even thinner in 2006," the
report said. "The year saw the jailing of government critics, attempts to weaken
civil society, independent media, and political dissent."
The opposition has struggled to maintain its ability to challenge the government,
said Mu Sochua, secretary-general of the Sam Rainsy Party.
"Who is speaking loudly, persistently regarding the lack, the total disarray
of social justice, regarding the corruption of judiciary?" she said." It
is the opposition, members, leaders, not just MPs but the grass roots."
Despite attempts by the opposition to challenge and criticize, Cambodia's development
will be destabilized if the government is able to behave in 2007 as it did in 2006,
"The rule of law is not only lacking [but its absence will] drag Cambodia's
development into total disarray if it is allowed to erode further," she said.
The international community has failed to grasp the fundamental importance of the
rule of law for development, said Fernando.
"There is an inability to link development with rule of law," he said.
"Donors talk abstractly about development and democracy but they don't realize
the link is the rule of law."
The time has come for less "back door" diplomacy and more direct action,
"The money that is spent on Cambodia is not free, it is taxpayers money,"
she said. "Every single one of the representatives of [foreign] governments
in Cambodia must be responsible and that responsibility lies in having the courage
to stand up when ethnic minorities, when the poor, continue to loose their land and
their livelihoods, when our forests are raped, totally raped, when there is a court,
a judiciary, [that is] nothing but a mockery, a masquerade of more and more injustice."
The international community is trying hard to foster the development of rule of law
in Cambodia, said the diplomatic source.
"Our constructive criticism really goes to the nuts and bolts," said the
diplomat. "You need a clear separation of powers, this has been repeatedly said."
But Kek Galabru, president of local rights group Licadho, said the fact remains that
Cambodia's executive dominates both the legislative and judicial branches of government.
"There is no separation of power," she said. "The executive always
interfere [with the courts]."
The ramifications of this lack of separation of the powers extends far beyond the
immediate infringements of individual citizen's civil liberties, she said.
"Cambodia is now a member of WTO," said Galabru. "They ask for a lot
of conditions and one of them is the independence of the judiciary. How can serious
investors come to Cambodia [without this?]"
Without the rule of law, economic as well as human development is compromised, said
"Rule of law is not just a question of civil liberties, it is about the management
of society," he said. "Cambodia is a mismanaged society, mismanaged to
The development of rule of law in Cambodia is being deliberately hindered by the
elite who are benefiting financially from their draconian grip on power, said Fernando.
"It is for economic benefit," he said. "The rule of law is not allowed
to develop in order to [allow the elite to] carry on with certain types of exploitation.
The [absence of a] rule of law is bound with the political elite maintaining the
status quo: a small number of very powerful people distinct from the rest of country
which is very poor and will continue to be."
Yet "irrational" management and preventing the development of the rule
of law is a contradictory policy that will ultimately backfire, said Fernando.
"At some time there is bound to be a reaction among elite: what is security
of OUR property?" he said. "The implication of no rule of law runs into
all areas of the economy. You can't maintain proper banking so you have much money
laundering, you can't determine the value of local currency so no person, even the
wealthy, feels secure. No one wants to buy land unless they have state patronage.
On one hand, while there is this repression in the interests of the property owning
class [Cambodia] can't forever remain at this level. You have to enter a modern economy.
Cambodia's future is tied to regional economies and there are so many possibilities
for its development all around. But all that is negated by the present form of the
Om Yentieng, adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen and head of the government's human
rights committee said that the human rights situation in Cambodia had improved over
the course of 2006.
"The human rights situation in Cambodia in 2006 is better than before,"
he said. "We have seen an end of the pretrial detention procedure, we have reformed
our prisons, the general economic situation is good, the media is also able to write
Although land grabbing is a problem, it is incorrect to cast it as a violation of
human rights, he said.
"Land grabbing is not a case of human rights abuse," he said. "These
cases happen from the law, many powerful people have also lost their cases at the
court regarding land grabbing - it is not human rights abuse."
The government is open to criticism, he said, but confident of its own rights record.
"We don't want to say the [NGOs] are always right but we take into consideration
the points they raise," he said. "We are happy that the real situation
of human rights in Cambodia is not bad or serious like what those NGOs report."