With goodwill, anything can be achieved

People march past the Canadia Tower on Monivong Boulevard as part of Human Rights Day celebrations
People march past the Canadia Tower on Monivong Boulevard as part of Human Rights Day celebrations in Phnom Penh last year. Sreng Meng Srun

With goodwill, anything can be achieved

Each year, Human Rights Day marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations on December 10, 1948.

The day is celebrated everywhere to highlight the global commitment to provide people all over the world with universal rights and freedoms.

Why universal rights and freedoms? Let us recall that the basic power of human rights resides in their universal nature. They affirm our common humanity and put us all on equal footing.

They remind us that the struggle of a single far-away individual is our own struggle as well. The human rights movement provides us with the legal underpinnings and the language to wage battle on every individual’s behalf.

It is a language that can resonate with every human being – and is thus able to rally to its cause people across party lines, across borders, across faith and gender.

More than 60 years ago Europe was still suffering from the traumatic experience of being the continent where two world conflicts had originated in the span of a generation and the most shameful genocide had been perpetrated.

But what Europe brings today is the clear notion that the universality of human rights starts at home. This entails the candid acknowledgement of Europe’s own human rights challenges and its willingness to tackle them through a wealth of mechanisms, with no room for complacency.

Respect for human rights is a fundamental condition for all countries aspiring to join the EU.

Moreover, all trade and cooperation agreements signed by the EU have a special clause stating that human rights constitute an essential element in relations between the parties.

The rights to freedom of opinion and expression, to peaceful assembly and association, and to take part in government are key drivers of political, economic and social reforms.

Around the world, recent events have showcased people continuing to call for political inclusion and freedom of expression while the widespread benefits of communication technology have no doubt facilitated the participation of civil society and ordinary citizens in these movements.

As the head of a diplomatic mission with a long-standing and multifaceted partnership with Cambodia, I am delighted to see the voice of Cambodian people grow stronger from day to day.

More and more people in Cambodia exercise their civil and political rights, often simply to claim their social, cultural and economic rights. Despite shortcomings, the July election and the mainly peaceful exercise of freedom of expression and association that has followed are a positive signal that the universal rights and freedoms in Cambodia are continually improving.

The EU welcomes peaceful demonstrations and the increasing levels of public participation in discussions about the future of this country. The EU believes that with peace and strong political goodwill anything can be achieved.

The EU wishes to encourage a more representative National Assembly where the political parties can, in good faith, work towards the structural reforms still urgently needed for equitable and sustainable development in Cambodia.

The recent election results express, for example, citizen’s desire for greater fairness and equity in relation to access to land in Cambodia.

This is, in turn, closely linked to the urgent need for structural good governance reforms, including legal and judicial reform without which justice remains elusive.

Democracy also depends on knowledgeable citizens with access to a wide range of information, enabling them to participate fully in public life.

Citizen’s active participation in determining priorities for public spending, resolving disputes and holding public officials accountable will further embed democratic principles in the development of Cambodia.

Transparency and access to information are key in any open society for the promotion and protection of human rights.

These principles should be promoted not only within governmental institutions, but also within all civil society organisations in order for the principles of good governance and democracy to become part of the social fabric of the country.

The EU welcomes the government’s recent commitment to adopt legislation which ensures citizens have access to information.

In Cambodia, the EU supports democracy and human rights through numerous programs. However, strong political will in support of fundamental human rights and good governance can go much further than any contribution from the EU taxpayer ever can.

Jean-François Cautain is the ambassador of the European Union to the Kingdom of Cambodia.

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