THE need for an impartial, government-funded human rights commission was highlighted
on June 12 by National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh's call for such
a body to be formed in advance of an eventual closure of the Cambodian office of
the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights (UNHCHR).
Ranariddh told reporters that the need for such a body was particularly urgent in
light of Cambodia's history of "serious abuses" of human rights.
Representatives of Cambodian human rights groups welcomed the Prince's concern. "I
agree with the Prince completely because in Cambodia we urgently need to have an
impartial, independent mechanism to protect and promote human rights," said
Kek Galabru, president of the Cambodian League for the Protection and Promotion of
Ranariddh's call for an impartial, government-funded commission to investigate alleged
human rights abuses followed a July 7 ASEAN human rights seminar in Phnom Penh in
which Cambodia's three-existing official human rights commissions were criticized
as partisan and ineffective.
"The official government human rights commission and the Senate and National
Assembly human rights commissions include members from all three political parties,"
said Kem Sokha, president of the Senate's Commission on Human Rights. "They
are often partisan and unable to find consensus to work effectively."
Brian Burdekin, UNHCHR's Special Advisor on National Institutions and a participant
at the seminar met with NGO representatives and officials from Cambodia's three main
political parties to encourage consensus in the formation of a new, impartial human
"One of the lessons we've learned not only in Cambodia but Rwanda, Uganda and
Sierra Leone is that failure to recognize human rights, whether in SE Asia or the
Great Lakes region, leads to national instability that can have a major regional
impact," he said. "The whole point is that such a commission is national
and is not the UN telling people what to do."
The Cambodian office of the UNHCHR was opened to monitor and investigate human rights
abuses. It's current mandate expires in 2002 and it is uncertain whether it will