Hoping to leave an enduring legacy in human rights education and training programs
in Cambodia after the departure of UNTAC forces, Special Representative Yasushi Akashi
launched a special appeal last October for funds to establish a human rights trust
Citing education as the cornerstone of UNTAC's human rights activities, the fund
was intended to help continue a broad range of education and training projects started
by UNTAC prior to the elections this May. So far, the special representative's appeal
has garnered $1.67 million in pledges from seven nations plus the private American
According to UNTAC human rights officials, "there has been a tremendous demand
for human rights education." Since its arrival in March 1992, UNTAC has organized
human rights educational projects such as training courses through schools and universities
for administrative officials, police, teachers, party officials, health professionals,
and public defenders.
As part of its outreach efforts, UNTAC has run information campaigns on radio and
TV, and worked with community leaders and monks. UNTAC has also supported the start-up
of Cambodian human rights organizations.
Following on programs already set up by UNTAC, the trust fund started making its
first grants last December. As of May, the fund had signed 26 projects with almost
two dozen non-governmental organizations. Many of them are cooperative projects between
Asian and international NGOs and the five indigenous Cambodian human rights groups.
"The key is to establish a network of human rights organizations that will endure
after UNTAC has departed," explained Thant Myint-U of UNTAC's Human Rights Component.
"The harder, but more important task is to get international human rights standards
entrenched," so they cannot easily be ignored or dismissed after the international
presence has departed Cambodia, he explained
Typical projects supported by the trust fund include training teachers to develop
grass-roots education programs, developing a human rights education program for women
in rural areas, and training local human rights groups in U.N. human rights procedures,
including monitoring, reporting, and documenting.
Dennis McNamara, director of UNTAC's Human Rights Component, said that educating
Cambodians about human rights is a critical component of the larger process of institution-building
and establishment of a civil society based on the rule of law. He cited other key
elements that have yet to be put in place, such as building an independent judicial
system, retraining police to function within lawful constraints, and reforming the
McNamara said that the fund's on-going human rights education projects are part of
a larger effort to establish and solidify enduring human rights concepts and mechanisms
that will endure long after UNTAC has departed.
McNamara pointed out that Cambodia has signed several international agreements that
are binding, and the constitution to be drafted after the elections will have various
human rights safeguards built into it.
This past February the U.N. Human Rights Commission authorized the Geneva-based U.N.
Center for Human Rights to establish an operational presence in Cambodia this coming
September, the first time the Center will operate outside of Geneva. In addition,
the U.N. Secretary-General will appoint a special representative for human rights
in Cambodia, who will report to the Commission on the Cambodian human rights situation.
McNamara also said regional efforts, such as the task forces formed by several Asian
legal and human rights groups to support the Cambodian human rights organizations,
were crucial to the long-term process of ensuring that human rights concerns not
be ignored by future governments. Because international support for Cambodia's nascent
human rights efforts is particularly critical over the next few years, Special Representative
Akashi will launch a second appeal for additional funds to the trust fund before
UNTAC's mandate expires at the end of August this year.