The Cambodian Human Rights Working Group, established two months ago to work toward a national human rights organization, will this week join four similar groups in urging Asean ministers to approve such an organization for the region.
Independent, non-partisan groups from Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines will participate with Cambodia in an Asean ministerial meeting set for Friday and Saturday in Bangkok.
Cambodia’s delegation, led by Kem Sokha, Funcinpec chairman of the Senate human rights commission; his CPP deputy Ung Ty; and Kek Galabru, founder of the human rights organization Licadho, will depart today.
Kek Galabru said the human rights working groups from the five Asean countries will work as a regional force to make Asean leaders more aware of human rights abuses in the region.
“The protection of human rights should be heeded as much as development,” Kek Galabru said, while the working groups’ common interests demonstrate the need for a regional mechanism, to be called the Asean Human Rights Commission.
Human rights activists in Cambodia and the other Asean democracies fear Asean leaders aren’t likely to approve such a regional commission because of opposition from such communist countries as Burma, Vietnam and Laos, and the authoritarian regimes of Brunei and Singapore.
Establishing such organizations can be difficult. Since its birth, the Cambodian Human Rights Working Group has lobbied hard for an independent, non-partisan national organization here.
Kem Sokha, who leads the working group, said on Wednesday he has the support of the Senate, as well as National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Senate President Chea Sim.
Kem Sokha said the prince agreed the constitution should be amended if necessary to allow creation of the independent commission. Kem Sokha said human rights abuses, especially human and child trafficking, are still on the rise despite the efforts of the government, parliament and NGOs.
While Cambodia has three human rights commissions as well as about 30 NGOs working on these issues, Kem Sokha said the three commissions are more political than independent. One is his own Senate commission; the second is in the National Assembly; and the third is the government’ s committee.
Any commission involving politicians cannot be called completely independent, Kem Sokha said. “We need one commission, with international standards, to work locally and regionally for human rights,” he said.
Om Yentieng, senior adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen and chairman of the government’s committee, said he isn’t opposed to establishing yet another body, but questions Kem Sokha’s motives.
“We have three to four human rights commissions already, which are more than other countries. And the pretext they [give for having] another one is not appropriate,’’ he said.
The existing bodies are not simply political, Om Yentieng said. “We [protect] human rights for the sake of human rights’’ and for no other reasons, he said.