A UN panel in Geneva on Friday said Cambodia appeared unable to enforce legal protections against discrimination for Cambodia’s ethnic minorities, including guarantees of land tenure and access to government services as well as protection against land grabbing.
After reviewing Cambodia’s adherence to an international racial discrimination treaty, the independent 18-member panel said “the rule of law was not perhaps being uniformly or faithfully applied in certain aspects, in particular as it regarded refugees, asylum-seekers, and the various groups that had been talked about in the dialogue.”
Cambodia ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination in 1983 but had not submitted to a review of its adherence to the treaty for more than a decade.
The government declined to send a high-level delegation to the review, held Friday and Thursday, and was represented by the diplomats posted to Switzerland. The government said last week that sending officials from Phnom Penh was costly and unnecessary.
While last week’s review touched on issues ranging from the Khmer Rouge tribunal to literacy, the bulk of the questioning by the panel was devoted to the land rights of indigenous minorities and the social welfare of Khmer Krom.
At times, the delegation appeared unprepared.
“[T]he delegation was unable to answer the technical question about the registrations for the indigenous community,” the UN panel said in its concluding remarks.
At other moments, the Cambodian representatives were adamant that reports of wrongdoing were untrue.
According to the statement, the delegation “insisted…[there were] no grounds for the criticism that indigenous people had been evicted from their land without compensation,” and called any such claims “opportunistic.”
Political observer Chea Vannath said the findings seemed accurate.
“Enforcement of the law is still limited for a lot of reasons. The mechanism to enforce the law is still limited as well,” said Ms Vannath. She noted that there is frequently confusion over which authority is responsible for enforcement of any given law, while a lack of sub-decrees which could clarify older laws make for a murky system of interpretation.
Thach N Thach, president of the Kampuchea Khmer-Krom Federation, which submitted a report to the panel, said that the government has failed to provide social services to Khmer Krom by making it difficult for them to obtain identification. And Chhit Sam Ath, executive director of NGO Forum, noted that the government appeared unwilling to enact recent a titling sub- decree which would protect indigenous land.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday that the government takes great care to ensure indigenous minorities have adequate land tenure.
“Saying there is discrimination against hill tribes is just not true…. The Cambodian government pays very good attention to them.”
Mr Siphan similarly denied that there was any institutional discrimination against Khmer Krom.
“They can say anything they want, but we never discriminate. Cambodia is open to everyone.”