T HE UN's Human Rights Envoy to Cambodia has slammed a decision to repatriate a group
of 19 political dissidents to Vietnam as a snub to accepted international practice.
"This is a very serious rejection of the international mechanism when it comes
to upholding the rights of refugees," according to Thomas Hammarberg - the UN
Secretary General's Special Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia.
"The end result is that you now have an unnecessary situation where this country
may be criticized for its bad handling of this case," he said.
The fate of the nineteen deported to Vietnam remained unclear at press time after
their Dec 6 deportation and arrest by Vietnamese authorities later the same day.
Eight others, who were in possession of Cambodian citizenship papers, were released
by Phnom Penh authorities after being warned not to participate in anti-Hanoi activities.
Another man - an American citizen - was deported to the US because his Cambodian
visa had reportedly expired.
The 28 - including three women and a monk- are members of the People's Action Party
of Free Vietnam (PAPFV), a group which Hanoi claims is dedicated to the overthrow
of Vietnam's government.
The PAPFV is said to have several hundred members, many of whom are alleged to have
been officers in the former Army of the Republic of Vietnam which was defeated by
communist forces in 1975.
Officials claim the group was arrested after they violated Cambodian immigration
law by attempting to enter Thailand through the border town of Poipet in order to
attend a PAPFV meeting.
According to a human rights worker who interviewed members of the group before the
deportation, they were arrested Nov 30 before being trucked to a detention center
at Pochentong airport.
Their swift deportation brought strong protests from both the UN Center for Human
Rights and the UN Commission for Refugees as being unduly hasty and in contravention
of an international treaty signed by Cambodia.
According to Special Representative Hammarberg, the spirit of Cambodia's reaction
to the group was "very negative".
"Here you have a group of people, some of whom didn't have [citizenship] documentation,
but who were asking for asylum because of the risk of detention they faced in Vietnam,"
Cambodia is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention which states that such claims
should be investigated, but in this case those claims were not, he said.
"The United Nation's High Commission for Refugees is here [in Cambodia] to help
the government in terms of it meeting its obligations to that convention. They had
already started their work and had appealed for more time, but the deportations went
"Niether I nor the high Commissioner's office can see the need for this situation,"
The latest incident follows similar deportations earlier this year. On March 9 Ly
Chandara - the editor of the Vietnamese language newspaper Tudo (Freedom) - was arrested
and handed over to Vietnamese authorities on the Cambodia-Vietnam border.
The deportation of two other men associated with Chandara and three ethnic Vietnamese
with US nationality around the same time, prompted a group of more than 50 Vietnamese
to seek asylum at the US embassy in Phnom Penh on March 15.
Asylum was refused on the strength of assurances from Interior Minister Sar Kheng
that the asylum seekers would not be deported if they obeyed Cambodian law.
According to human rights sources, Ly Chandara and another March deportee, Ly Thara,
have since returned to Cambodia but have been warned not to get involved in anti-Hanoi