UMAN rights NGOs have debated a common argument in Cambodia - particularly
prevalent in the Untac period - that a byproduct of their work is an increase in
As Thun Saray, of Adhoc, Cambodia's first human rights
organization, put it: "Some people say: 'Since the Human Rights Organizations
have been born, the number of robbers have increased.'
"Some call the
Human Rights organization as 'the Rights of Robber's Association,' " he
The Khmer Institute of Democracy confronted this issue head-on with
a discussion by heads of Cambodian human rights organizations on the sources of
crime and the connections between human rights and law and order. The discussion
was held at the Cambodiana on Saturday, 1 July and filmed for local TV
Saray said economic hardship, lack of gun-control, corruption
which returns crime suspects to the streets, gambling, dancing bars and
prostitution which are frequented by unemployed young men are causes of the
increase in crime.
"I only point to these reasons in order to avoid the
misunderstanding that while human rights organizations were emerging, robberies
increased simultaneously," he said.
Saray said that another misconception
exists: "Some people think that only Westerners need human rights, and that
human rights is a western idea."
"Everyone needs human rights, like the
rights of property, the right to travel, and the right not to be a slave, or to
have to sell our children into slavery. These are not just the rights of the
Westerners, but the rights of all humans," Saray said.
While Thun Saray
explained why the promotion of human rights was not the cause of increases in
crime, Dr Kek Galabru, President of Licadho tried, in part, to explain what it
is that human rights organizations do and how they help jailed Cambodians
"One of the jobs of the human rights organizations is to
watch. If there is violence we help. Our organizations have no right or power to
release an arrested person. But we can help bring his or her case to court for a
fair judgement. In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights it says: 'The
person alleged to have committed a crime is considered innocent until proven
guilty.' The court is open to the public, and there should be a lawyer to help
in the defense.
"Some of the people we defend are really robbers, thieves
or murderers. We do not defend them in order to have them released, but only to
ensure that they have their rights in court. The court can then try them and
jail them legally. But some journalists have written that human rights
organizations protect robbers," Galabru said.
Dr Galabru told a story to
illustrate how her organization has helped people who have complaints against
authorities, and their provision of defense even to malefactors.
province, whose name I do not dare say, authorities have arrested and detained
innocent people in order to demand money.
"The demands were as high as 10
or 15 damleungs of gold ($5-$7,500). If the innocent people refused, some were
killed. We helped local people to make complaints in the case, and followed the
files to the court and to the judge. In one case the judge called the malefactor
to the court, and we helped by providing for his defense.
"When he was
convicted, we followed to watch him being jailed. But one day we found that he
had been released [by the Provincial authorities]. Do we really protect the
malefactor or robber? There are many provinces in which we help innocent people
who are arrested and jailed. We take their cases to court and they are found