Opposition parliamentarian Son Chhay lashed out Friday at a report issued by the government’s Cambodian Human Rights Committee, calling it embarrassing for the government.
The report on human rights for the first quarter of 2004, delivered by Om Yentieng, CHRC president and adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, “made our Royal Government very ashamed of itself,” Son Chhay told reporters.
The report focused on 14 cases of violent mob justice and praised the Supreme Council of Magistracy for dismissing two Municipal Court judges, a move numerous rights observers have called a threat to judicial independence.
Om Yentieng prefaced his presentation by saying the committee had not been able to cover all aspects of the human rights situation in Cambodia. Son Chhay said that Om Yentieng’s government-controlled committee ignored the nation’s real atrocities, such as political killings.
“Om Yentieng made a report with no reference [to political killings] and said nothing about it. That there is no comment, it makes people suspect the government is involved,” Son Chhay said.
Thursday, Om Yentieng said there was no evidence that any killings were politically motivated.
Kem Sokha, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, questioned the report’s credibility Thursday. “Naturally, the human rights violations are mostly committed by government officials,” Kem Sokha said. “But this committee works for the government. How can they investigate themselves? Who’d believe [Om Yentieng] if he investigated the government?”
Kem Sokha said that Om Yentieng’s high position in the CPP made his commitment to protecting human rights questionable.
The former Funcinpec parliamentarian pointed to the circumstances surrounding CHRC’s establishment. The committee came about in 1997, shortly after factional fighting that caused many royalists, including Kem Sokha, to flee Cambodia and allowed Hun Sen to dominate the government. He said Om Yentieng took advantage of the tumultuous time, when political opponents were outside the country, to establish his committee.
Kem Sokha also said that Om Yentieng had attempted to bring legitimacy for his committee by trying to draft prominent local human rights advocates Thun Saray, president of Adhoc, and Kek Galabru, president of Licadho.
But “the NGOs don’t participate; they don’t join,” he said.
Local rights workers have continued to push for an independent human rights institution in Cambodia, but enthusiasm from the ruling CPP has been lacking.
Last week, negotiations for a new coalition government stumbled when the CPP rejected Funcinpec’s proposal for such a body.
Kek Galabru said Friday that NGOs had organized seminars in 2000 and 2001, aimed at establishing national and regional human rights institutions conforming to international standards.
The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights’ adviser on national human rights institutions came from Geneva, and rights workers came from around Southeast Asia, she said.
Om Yentieng did not attend either seminar.
“He said he didn’t receive the invitation, but each time we sent him several to make sure he got at least one,” Galabru said.
As for the effectiveness of Om Yentieng’s committee, Galabru said it was hindered by its low visibility. “People in the remote countryside have never heard of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee. So one point is, there is no accessibility for the people,” she said.
The UN human rights office issued a statement Monday saying it was pleased CHRC had addressed mob killings. It said that Peter Leuprecht, the UN’s special representative to Cambodia for human rights, was calling for an independent inquiry into the killings to find their causes and means to end them.
The UN office also repeated its condemnation of the two judges’ dismissal, which the government’s committee had praised.
“The Supreme Council of Magistracy, which took the decision to penalize these judges, is not independent and needs deep restructuring,” it said.
Om Yentieng said last week that his committee’s second quarter report for 2004 will address prison conditions, excessive pre-trial detention, illegal detention and equity before the law.
“How can he work for human rights and belong to a party like this?” Kem Sokha asked.