Three human rights organizations on Tuesday urged the UN’s Human Rights Council to call on Cambodia to respect its people’s freedoms and to prosecute government officials suspected of abuses.
In a statement coinciding with Tuesday’s arrival of outspoken UN human rights envoy Yash Ghai, local rights groups Licadho and Adhoc and the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights painted a grim picture of recent events in Cambodia and urged the UN rights council to act.
“Despite the recommendations made by Mr Yash Ghai…before the Human Rights Council, little progress has been made,” the statement said. “Cambodians are increasingly subject to a wide range of human rights abuses—often committed by state personnel.”
Cambodian officials in September reacted with anger to an address to the Council in Geneva during which Ghai accused the ruling party of subverting democracy.
Ghai arrived in Phnom Penh Tuesday for three days of discussions concerning his most recent report on human rights in Cambodia that was released in March and which he is to present to the UN rights council on June 12.
The three rights groups said the council should renew the mandate of the UN rights envoy and pass a resolution calling on Cambodia to enact long-awaited legislation such as the anti-corruption law and criminal code, while pursuing government officials implicated in abuses.
The newly created council, which held its inaugural session in June of last year, is scheduled to consider Cambodia’s situation at its fifth session next month.
Tuesday’s statement cited cases such as the February imprisonment of university lecturer Tieng Narith for publishing strongly worded criticism of the government; the murder that month of Free Trade Union leader Hy Vuthy; and a March court ruling that upheld the widely disputed conviction of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun for the 2004 murder of FTU President Chea Vichea, who rights workers say are innocent.
The groups also decried continuing threats to freedom of speech, violence against women, land grabbing and political interference in the judiciary, citing Licadho figures that “71 community and labor activists…were illegally detained and/or had spurious charges brought against them” in 2006.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said the NGOs were not providing an accurate description of Cambodia. “We have 10,000 good points they don’t mention. But one bad point, they play up,” he said. “They see only one tree. They don’t see the whole jungle.” Criticizing the government is the rights groups’ lifeblood, he added. “That is their job. If they don’t say bad, they don’t have salaries.”
CPP Deputy National Assembly President Nguon Nhel said that if the government had really been abusing people’s rights, they would not keep voting for the ruling party.
“Since 1993, Cambodia has implemented the democratic process,” he said, adding that voters had supported the CPP in April’s commune elections despite NGO criticism.
“If the government were pressuring [people], there would have been a revolt and people wouldn’t have supported us,” he said, adding that the government has worked hard to make things better. “It seems the NGOs don’t know the government’s efforts,” he said.
Representatives of local rights groups met with Ghai at the UN human rights office in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, according to participants. “I think the consensus was that we support the assessment made in the report of Yash Ghai and that in fact there has not been any improvement,” said Cambodia Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak.
“I informed him about the Khmer Krom human rights violations in Vietnam and in Cambodia,” said Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Organization leader Ang Chanrith.
“We want Ghai to intervene with the government to protect Khmer Krom monks.”
Ou Virak said the government’s strong reaction to Ghai’s work is an indication of the importance that government officials attach to it.
“I think it’s an indication that they don’t want to see their names mentioned in a negative light at the UN,” he said. “But let’s stop shooting the messenger.”