About two dozen NGOs have condemned the government’s human rights track record in reports sent to the UN before the Khmer New Year, according to NGO representatives and statements.
All NGOs had until April 14 to submit their report card on the country’s human rights situation for the UN Universal Periodic Review, a process by which the UN Human Rights Council examines each of the 192 member states every four years. Cambodia’s turn is slated for Dec 1.
“The systemic lack of protection of human rights in Cambodia is a consequence of long-standing impunity for human rights violations, the absence of the rule of law and seriously delayed legal and judicial reform,” said Amnesty International in a report that cited, among other things, a court system biased against the poor and powerless, political interference at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, and forced evictions.
“[T]he legal institutions play a central role in violating the very human rights they are meant to protect,” the report added, citing the flawed, and highly publicized, investigation of the 2004 murder of trade unionist Chea Vichea as an example of the courts’ failure. Amnesty also noted that at least 23,000 people were forcibly evicted in 2008, that rape cases are frequently settled out of court, and that human rights defenders are threatened.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap argued that only a handful of powerful people committed such violations.
“It takes time to get rid of those kinds of people,” he said by telephone Sunday. “We are taking action to get those people to the court and let the court punish them.”
“They just temporarily come to Cambodia and judge without balance what the government has done,” he added, speaking of Amnesty International.
But local NGOs also spoke up. More than 20 national and international organizations, including the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, Adhoc and Licadho, sent a common report focusing on freedom of expression, said CCHR President Ou Virak.
“Without freedom of expression, we do not have democracy…. We wouldn’t have any chance of addressing all the many problems,” he said. “Freedom of expression is still the most fundamental right.”
Though the report will not be made public until later this week, Mr Ou Virak said it dealt mostly with freedom of the press and legislation restricting it. The NGOs are demanding that courts no longer charge people with the offense of disinformation, which has become more popular since prison terms were removed for defamation in 2006, he added.
In its own report, the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Association reproached both Cambodia and its neighbor Vietnam for violating the basic rights of ethnic Khmers living in or originally from southern Vietnam.
“Currently, the [Khmer Kampuchea Krom people] are not free to conduct any demonstrations to draw attention to their cause,” read the report, tendered April 10. “Cambodian authorities and Vietnam spies intimidate those fearless enough to protest.”
For Vietnam’s review scheduled May 8, the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation is planning a protest in front of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, said SRP lawmaker and ethnic Khmer Krom Yont Tharo.
“We will protest together as one way to demonstrate and voice the issues in order to put pressure on the Hanoi government,” Mr Yont Tharo said.
Vietnamese Embassy spokesman Trinh Ba Cam could not be reached for comment Sunday.
(Additional reporting by Phorn Bopha and Frank Radosevich.)