Local human rights activists produced a plethora of valuable recommendations designed
to establish long-term human rights safeguards in Cambodia during a recent three
day symposium sponsored by UNTAC's Human Rights Component.
However, after wrestling with how to protect the Khmer people from "policies
and practices of the past" as well other egregious violations of human rights
committed by any of the other signatories to the Paris Peace Accords, deep concern
was expressed by participants as to whether the Constituent Assembly's constitutional
drafting committee or the new government would take sufficient measures to implement
the activist's proposed plans of action.
The three-day event entitled "The Second International Symposium on Human Rights
in Cambodia" brought together more that 80 human rights activists from Cambodia
and 15 other countries around the world. It was another in a long series of activities
by the U.N.'s Human Rights Component designed to bring attention to perhaps one of
the Paris Peace Plan's greatest weaknesses: that being the question of how Cambodia,
and especially those Khmer outside of the new, still shifting circles of power, cope-possibly
on their own-with the long, tragic history of domestic violence once UNTAC leaves
UNTAC Human Rights, to its credit, has known from the beginning that if it, and the
U.N. in general, was to have any impact on Cambodia, one of the main tasks from day
one was to prepare for UNTAC's departure, to lay the basis for a long-term sustained
assault on an environment and culture permeated by injustice.
Regrettably, some of UNTAC's other components have been more focused on how to get
"the job" done, pack their bags and get out of the country safely (with
per diem in pocket) before all hell broke loose. Some of the folks in Human Rights
have been known to grumble about less than adequate support from the rest of "The
The symposium tackled three main themes, each with the purpose of shedding light
on an area of concern around which the nascent Khmer human rights NGOs could focus.
In their turn, day-by-day, the issues of democracy, reconciliation and development
were discussed and debated.
Outside experts from India, the Philippines, Thailand, Sri lanka, Japan and Canada
among others were brought in to share relevant experiences, after which the representatives
of the five new Khmer human rights NGOs or those speaking for some of the other newly
established non-profit associations were given the floor to respond.
At the very least the symposium allowed some of the associations which were permitted
to blossom under the UNTAC pluralistic window of opportunity to have their say. How
many people know that Cambodia now has an Association for Khmer Writers, a Khmer
Highlanders Association, a Khmer Kampuchea Krom Association, a Khmer Students Association
or a Khmer Youth Development Association? Two years ago such entities were unheard
of, not to mention illegal.
All of these locally established NGOs are still trying not only to get their feet
on the ground but, more importantly, to figure out how they will survive in the future
and adequately represent their members concerns.
Wide open debate consumed the symposium's three mornings; each afternoon was dedicated
to giving the Cambodians a closed-door session by themselves to thrash out what should
or could be done to protect and plan for action in the subject area under consideration.
The list of recommendations produced on what should be done is enormous and well
worth close scrutiny, not to mention the good ideas that were voiced but which weren't
included in the final written reports. A Freedom of Information Act, a National Commission
on Human Rights, an independent judiciary, a Bill of Rights - those were some of
the big ideas put forth and argued for forcefully by the Khmer participants.
As just a snapshot of the detail about which Cambodian human rights activists in
the symposium felt strongly, the following recommendations from Day 2 are instructive:
"The Constitution should contain Directive Principles of State Policy laying
down that it is the duty of the State to ensure social justice to the people and
to bring about equitable distribution of the material resources of the community.
The land shall belong to the tiller of the soil who must have the rights of ownership
including rights of inheritance and transfer, and there shall be no concentration
of land in the hands of a few to the detriment of the many."
"Corruption at all levels of the government must be eliminated. After taking
the oath, the Members of the Parliament must declare the assets held in their own
names, the name of their wives, children and other near relatives. A Standing Joint
Parliamentary Committee should be established to enquire into compliance of corruption
amongst Ministers and Members of parliament. Property illegally acquired by Ministers,
Members of Parliament and government servants should be confiscated by the State."
"There should be a provision in the Constitution that seizure of power by extra-constitutional
means, or by the use of force in violation of the constitutional provisions, shall
be an offence punishable by life imprisonment."
"This symposium condemns all violations of human rights and particularly summary
executions and extra-judicial killings, illegal arrests and detentions, and torture
committed by any member of the police or armed forces or by any government official.
The symposium recommends that those responsible for such acts must be brought to
trial immediately and appropriately punished, and a provision to this effect should
be incorporated in the constitution."
The symposium produced six typewritten pages of equally hardhitting detail. UNTAC
will no doubt produce a final report and copies will be distributed widely. Whether
or not the constitutional drafting committee with its five weeks left to draft a
final product will incorporate any of the symposium's recommendation remains to be
The advice of one member of the constitutional drafting committee who spoke to the
symposium may not have given the human rights activists much cause for comfort. He
said if people had ideas on what should be incorporated in the charter they should
mail them to the Assembly.