UN Envoy Describes Systematic Rights Abuses

Human rights abuses in Cambo­dia are not a symptom of government inefficiency or misrule, but are instruments of power in themselves, according to UN human rights envoy Yash Ghai.

In his second report on human rights in Cambodia released Fri­day, Ghai wrote that the country’s Constitution and laws are routinely bent to suit the wishes of the powerful, while the courts and the bodies charged with overseeing them are also manipulated toward political ends.

Cambodian officials have dismissed Ghai’s findings.

National Assembly and CPP Honorary President Heng Sam­rin said Sunday that Ghai is motivated by bitterness brought on because the government does not value his work.

“He just says this to criticize what we are doing which is right and contradictory to his purpose,” Heng Samrin said. “He blames us because we are doing things right.”

In his report, which was completed Dec 18, Ghai wrote that, as more than 15 years had passed since the 1991 Paris Peace Agree­ments, the time had come to assess Cambodia’s fulfillment of the hu­man rights provisions established then.

Ghai continued with a bleak an­alysis of the situation, describing Cambodia’s judicial system as “a principal agency of oppression” in which “innocent people become, at the instigation of the Government, the victims.”

Such circumstances arise by de­sign, Ghai claimed. “The use of systematic human rights violations has been a rational choice for those who hold power in Cambodia and who refuse to accept accountability, vis-a-vis the law and the people of Cambodia.”

Ghai alleged that “deliberate and systematic violations of human rights have become central to the government’s hold on power.”

Justice Minister Ang Vong Va­thana, who is a member of the Su­preme Council of Magistracy which oversees the judiciary, said Sunday that he was unfamiliar with the report’s contents and could not comment.

But CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap defended Cambodia’s legal system.

“Yash Ghai’s analysis of Cam­bodia is his right. He is not Khmer and does not understand the legal system of Cambodia,” Cheam Yeap said.

He added that Cambodia’s courts treat people fairly. “There is no law to oppress others and no law for leniency. The punishment of any person must have evidence,” he said.

Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kan­harith also dismissed Ghai’s report Friday, claiming the envoy never visits Cambodia and describing him as “the laziest staffer of the United Nations.”

But SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said he endorsed Ghai’s findings.

“In following the situation of human rights, I have nothing but to agree with Yash Ghai’s report,” he said, adding that the government has viewed all four UN human rights envoys to Cam­bodia as adversaries.

“All of them have not been looked on by the government as the way to improve the situation. These people, including Yash Ghai, have been abused by the government,” Son Chhay said.

Prime Minister Hun Sen in March 2006 called Ghai “rude” and a “long-term tourist,” after Ghai said there was too much power concentrated in the hands of one person for human rights to flourish.

In 1997, the premier described the previous envoy, Peter Leup­recht, as “stupid” and accused then-UN High Commissioner for Hu­man Rights Mary Robinson of “ex­aggerating” her account of the re­ported extra-judicial killings following that year’s factional fighting.

In his report Friday, Ghai gave particular weight to the judiciary’s lack of independence in explaining what he said was a failure to protect human rights.

“The judiciary has not been able to exercise effective restraint a­gainst executive power,” Ghai wrote, adding that the Supreme Council of Magistracy as an oversight body is “widely acknowledged to be unable to carry out its role credibly and effectively.”

Ghai’s report also contained a detailed analysis of the Constitu­tional Council—the body established to review the constitutionality of laws, executive orders and court decisions.

The Council “has shown a marked reluctance to challenge government legislation on the grounds that it violates human rights guarantees,” Ghai wrote.

At the request of any party to a case, Cambodian courts may refer decisions on the constitutionality of laws to the Council, which has nev­er occurred, Ghai wrote.

He also noted that six of the Con­stitutional Council’s nine members are affiliated with the CPP.

Constitutional Council Presi­dent Bin Chhin on Sunday refer­red questions to Council spokes­man Prak Sok, who could not be reached.

Council member Chhu­or Leang Huot also declined comment.

Chiv Keng, director of Phnom Penh Municipal Court, and the court’s Prosecutor Ouk Savouth, could not be contacted Sunday, while Deputy Prosecutor Ngeth Sarath said commenting on Ghai’s findings was above his station.

Kek Galabru, president of rights group Licahdo, said questioning Ghai’s motives made no sense.

“Yash Ghai has no interest to come to Cambodia and invent a story. For what? Yash Ghai is a professor in Hong Kong,” she said, adding that she found many of his conclusions to be self-evident.

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