OPPOSITION leaders are inciting hatred and racism against ethnic Vietnamese, says
the United Nations' human rights envoy for Cambodia.
Thomas Hammarberg has appealed to politicians such as Funcinpec's Prince Norodom
Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy "to be more careful in the way they campaign. A political
leader must show tolerance and not take the lead in inciting hatred."
In an interview with the Post, Hammarberg said he is deeply concerned about the frequent
use of the pejorative word "yuon" when politicians refer to ethnic Vietnamese.
He said he has raised the issue with the leaders but they have not reined in their
"This is an essential part of human rights: to show respect to those who have
a different origin. If you want to be seen as someone who protects human rights,
you can't violate that principle."
In the final weeks of the campaign, the use of the word yuon and inflamatory accusations
about the presence of illegal Vietnamese immigrants in the country have increased,
catching the attention of the Vietnamese government in Hanoi.
Vietnam's Foreign Ministry hit out against the rhetoric, saying: "All claims
and acts against the overseas Vietnamese must be criticized for they... are not beneficial
to the bilateral relations as well as the stability of Cambodia and the region."
In a statement released to the South China Morning Post on July 15, Hanoi said Vietnamese
in Cambodia "should have been respected and treated equally as other foreigners
in keeping with international practices as well as agreements signed between the
Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the Kingdom of Cambodia."
The rebuke prompted Sam Rainsy to release a statement admitting that "some of
my speeches and some materials distributed by my party have contributed to fears
among people of Vietnamese background in Cambodia and to concern over relations between
Cambodia and its eastern neighbor.
"I intend to target only the present government, which has failed to defend
Cambodia's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. I do not intend to
target any country or any people."
But that denial didn't satisfy one long-standing international human rights worker,
who said the persistent use of the word "yuon" by politicians such as Sam
Rainsy and Ranariddh was "sickening".
The worker pointed out that in the Sam Rainsy Party's appeal to the National Election
Committee over the registration of allegedly illegal Vietnamese immigrants, the party
listed people precisely by name.
"Those are real people, not the government... he and others talk about throwing
the Vietnamese out. Is it his English-language statements or his Khmer-language statements
we should listen to?"
Hammarberg also raised the issue of registration. "In some of the statements,
I have seen no attempt to make a distinction between errors in the registration of
voters... and more sweeping condemnations of the presence of people of Vietnamese
origin in the country - many who have the right to be here."
Another human rights worker said the leaders must take responsibility because "when
you have the top putting out inflamatory statements, it encourages people who are
not as educated to think a certain way."
In recent campaign rallies, Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy - the two most prominent
opposition leaders - both played the anti-Vietnamese card to enthusiastic response.
In a July 14 rally in Pongror commune, Kampong Chhnang, Ranariddh told supporters
"if we vote for the right party, the yuon will leave; if we choose the wrong
party, the yuon will be more."
And in Pailin three days earlier, Sam Rainsy said: "This government has ruled
for 20 years. If it were democratic, it wouldn't last without the yuon behind them.
They lost the 1993 election, but [used] force to keep power. Ranariddh was weak and
was cheated by the yuon puppets."
While the crowd responded enthusiastically, Yim Said, the Cambodian Peoples Party
(CPP) deputy chief in Pailin, objected to the tone of the rally.
Said argued that the name-calling was essentially a human-rights violation. "Since
the beginning of the campaign, we have been verbally intimidated," he said.
"Other parties say: 'Voting for the CPP is voting for yuon'. It is not right
to scold us the way they do.
"For 20 years Khmer Rouge propaganda said to fight the yuon and their puppets,
but the policy has changed," Said insisted. "If we continue to carry this
hatred, this war will never end."
In Phnom Penh, Hammarberg said that opposition leaders who call for the protection
of their own human rights must learn to respect others'.
"Tolerance is absolutely essential in human rights and you have to be consistent,
not only tolerant when it is yourself involved and intolerant with others."