Groups Want Independent Human Rights Body

Cambodia must establish an independent, national human rights institution with the power to conduct investigations and sanction those guilty of violations, representatives of the country’s two leading local rights groups said on Friday.

A consortium of rights groups met Thursday in Phnom Penh to discuss the establishment of an independent national human rights institution, which the U.N. endorsed under the Paris Principles in the early 1990s, and which Prime Minister Hun Sen committed to establishing in 2006, said Nay Vanda, deputy head of monitoring at Adhoc. However, seven years since Mr. Hun Sen made his statement, there has been no movement toward such a body, Mr. Vanda said.

“We want an independent [national human rights institution] that has the power to intervene and investigate cases of human rights violations, and to which the government must comply and implement recommendations,” said Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho.

Under the U.N.’s Paris Principles on the establishment of a national human rights institution, such a body must be independent of both government and NGOs, but act as a bridge between both. According to the U.N., the body may be granted quasi-judicial authority to freely investigate any and all issues that are brought to its attention regarding the protection and promotion of human rights, and its mandate must be endorsed on either a constitutional or legislative footing.

The government’s current Human Rights Committee, which is staffed by senior members of Mr. Hun Sen’s long-ruling CPP, is unable, or unwilling, to properly investigate rights abuses because of its pro-government bias, Mr. Sam Ath said.

“Cambodia has a Human Rights Committee but it has pro-government tendency,” he said.

The Committee’s president is Om Yentieng, a close adviser to Mr. Hun Sen.

Asked to comment on the criticism by NGOs that the government committee ignores human rights abuses, Mak Sambath, the committee’s deputy director, said his organization’s critics have “the rights to freedom of expression.”

“They can do whatever they want,” said Mr. Sambath, who declined to comment when asked how many cases of rights abuse his organization had investigated this year.

According to the Cambodia Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, national rights institutions “can only be effective if they are independent of government control and pluralistic in their membership, representing all parts of society.”

The renewed call for an independent human rights investigation body follows in the wake of increasing State violence, including the killings of bystanders by members of the police and military police during confrontations with striking workers, land rights activists, and supporters of the political opposition.

No credible investigations have been conducted into any of the cases of violence despite claims by police authorities and ruling-party officials that inquires are underway.

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