Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - UN poll report: progress good, more needed

UN poll report: progress good, more needed

UN poll report: progress good, more needed

The UN has issued a report on the July 27, 2003 national elections, concluding they

were an improvement on previous elections with less political violence, better and

more equal access to media and greater freedom of expression than prior polls.

But Peter Leuprecht, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Human

Rights in Cambodia, said in his report that there was still a long way to go. "Significant

obstacles remain to the exercise by Cambodia's citizens of their rights to freely

express their views and to engage in political activities," he said.

The report criticized the continued political violence and intimidation surrounding

the National Assembly elections, and noted that 13 political activists from the three

main political parties were murdered between the commune elections in February 2002

and July 25, 2003. It also pointed to voter coercion by village chiefs, including

forced oath-taking ceremonies.

Leuprecht also condemned interference from international bodies: "The Special

Representative notes with regret the unacceptable interference in the electoral process

from sources outside Cambodia," he wrote.

He told the Post, "There have obviously been cases of outside interference in

the electoral and post-electoral process, some more discrete, some less."

Leuprecht said one of the more striking examples of outside interference was a statement

by US Senator Mitch McConnell before the US Senate on October 28, which boldly supported

the Alliance of Democrats while condemning the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP).

"I can appreciate [the Alliance leaders'] refusal to allow Hun Sen to continue

to mislead that country," Senator McConnell had said.

Leuprecht's report noted that in Cambodia restrictions on freedom of political expression

and assembly also continued to blight the electoral process, with police and officials

frequently complicit in this violence and intimidation.

"The damaging effect on the general political climate of the murders and suspicious

deaths of political party activists should not be underestimated, and is compounded

by the failure of law enforcement authorities and the courts to respond effectively.

The problem of impunity continues to adversely affect the ability of Cambodians to

engage in political life without fear," Leuprecht said.

There was also a lack of fair access to broadcast media, andmedia monitors reported

coverage on public service broadcast media was"almost exclusively" about

the CPP and government.

The report noted that the National Election Committee (NEC) and other commune electoral

bodies were too weak, and failed to appropriately address complaints, impose fines,

or refer criminal cases to courts.

Leuprecht said he met with the Chair of the NEC, Im Suosdey, who requested assistance

in reviewing the complaints procedure.

Sousdey told the Post, "We are doing our best. We do what the law allows us

to do."

Hang Puthea, director of election monitoring body Nicfec, said reviewing the NEC

was the first step in improving the electoral system because the political influences

in the NEC prevented it from being impartial. "By law theNEC should be neutral

but in reality it is not."

The UN report called for an end to political violence and intimidation; active steps

to allow freedom of expression, assembly and association; an end to impunity for

those who commit serious crimes; and improved law enforcement and judicial systems.

Leuprecht urged the Cambodian government to end the political deadlock. "There

should be no sliding back as far as respect for human rights is concerned.... In

order to make progress in solving its many problems, Cambodia urgently needs effective,

transparent and accountable state institutions including a properly functioning parliament

and government," he said.

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