Ghai: Elite Enriched by Exploitation of the Poor

The UN’s Human Rights Council heard allegations Tuesday in Geneva that members of Cam­bodia’s powerful elite have exploited the state and the country’s poor to enrich themselves amid flagging progress in reforming public policy.

Human rights envoy Yash Ghai said in his second address to the 47-nation council that, while there had been some advances since 1991, such as improved health and access to education, “in most of the areas covered in my mandate, progress has been disappointing.”

But National Assembly deputy president Nguon Nhel disagreed, citing recent elections in which Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP received the lion’s share of votes.

“I don’t believe human rights in Cambodia is moving backward,” he said. “If the government op­pressed the people, the people would not have voted for the CPP.”

Ghai’s latest criticisms concern land, the subject of his fourth and latest report, officially released on Tuesday. “The general situation as regards land has got worse. More people have been evicted from their land, in rural as well as urban areas, with excessive force,” Ghai said. “The government tilts in favor of business companies whenever their interests clash with the interests of rural or urban people.”

In his address to the UN Coun­cil, which this year is to consider renewing the reporting mandates of both the rights envoy to Cam­bodia and the UN’s Phnom Penh human rights office, Ghai also cited the judiciary’s lack of independence and reported corruption as evidence of the country’s poor state of affairs.

“Serious allegations, including bribery and ‘kickbacks,’ have been raised about the manner in which Cambodian judges and other officials were appointed to the [Khmer Rouge tribunal],” Ghai said, according to a copy of the address.

“Instead of investigating the allegations, government officials have threatened to deny entry to the staff of Open Society Justice Initiative, which has pressed for these allegations to be credibly investigated,” he added.

Ghai also cited the Feb 24 murder of trade unionist Hy Vuthy in describing what he called “the threatening environment” in which unions work. In concluding, Ghai described crushing disparities of power and income.

“A wealthy and powerful social class has emerged on the back of the state—through the exploitation of the people and the country’s re­sources,” he said.

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