EU and UN praise not deserved

Family members mourn the loss of Eng Sokhom during her funeral in Phnom Penh
Family members mourn the loss of Eng Sokhom during her funeral in Phnom Penh. The 49-year-old rice vendor was a victim of November’s clashes in Meanchey district. Pha Lina

EU and UN praise not deserved

Dear Editor,

I was interested to read, in the article “Group calls on gov’t to probe deaths” (The Phnom Penh Post, November 29) that the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights have called on the United Nations to make its own investigations into the deaths of Mao Sok Chan and Eng Sokhom.

On October 10 the Post carried an article “Where Cambodia can lead”, which was jointly written by Jean-François Cautain, the European Union ambassador, and Wan-Hea Lee, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. At the time I thought this article was rather fulsome in its praise, implicit and explicit, of the Cambodian government.

When the authors wrote “The Kingdom of Cambodia continues to be an example in the fight against the death penalty and can be legitimately proud of the way it has drawn on lessons from the past . . .” this could only be seen as referring to the present government rather than the state as a sovereign entity.

Indeed the article went on to specifically commend the Royal Government of Cambodia for its stance on the death penalty at international level.

It was somewhat ironic that the same edition of The Phnom Penh Post carried a report of the death of Sok Chan, an innocent passer-by, shot dead when police started firing live ammunition when they themselves had not come under fire.

It was merely good fortune that more people were not killed, for at least nine others were wounded.

One of the main reasons Mr Cautain and Ms Wan-Hea Lee used to support their argument for the abolition of the death penalty, the sanctity of human life, must surely apply when well-armed state forces are deployed in times of political unrest, and I think one may have expected that both the EU and the UN local representatives would have been more critical of the government’s use of force than they have so far shown themselves to be.

Ms Wan-Hea Lee is quoted as saying there is “no excuse for excessive force from either side”, but no one can seriously take the view that the political opposition has the means to take on state security forces.

Indeed, the whole tenor of the campaigns it has organised have been peaceful. The ending of the death penalty may be something worth working towards.

Surely, however, diplomatic supporters, before lauding the government of any abolitionist state, should look at the whole picture of deaths which occur when police, paramilitary or military forces are deployed against civilians.

My Vote, My Life read the posters and banners in Freedom Park. The EU and the UN should be doing all they can to preserve the second, both in and out of the Cambodian judicial system.

Michael Hansen
Phnom Penh.

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