Cambodia’s UN human rights envoy called the government “a shaky facade of democracy” and voiced concern about what he called Prime Minister Hun Sen’s efforts to centralize power in a critical report released last week.
“What we are witnessing at present does not seem to demonstrate progress,” UN envoy Peter Leuprecht wrote, “but an increasingly autocratic form of government and growing concentration of power in the hands of the Prime Minister behind a shaky facade of democracy.”
He went on to “deplore the fact that Cambodia has not progressed further on the road to pluralistic democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights.”
Leuprecht, who was last in Cambodia in November, drafted the end-of-year human rights situation report on Dec 20, yet it was only made public on the UN High Commission for Human Rights Web site last week.
The report covers developments and issues from the past year. Leuprecht will present it to the 61st session of the Human Rights Commission within the next few weeks.
However, following a resolution passed in 2003, for the second year in a row the UN’s General Assembly will not receive the report, meaning representatives from only 53 of 191 nations will hear Leuprecht’s presentation.
The wide-ranging report also called attention to systemic human rights violations and impunity within the country.
Leuprecht said that despite repeated calls for action to be taken to combat impunity in the judicial and legal systems, little or no progress has been seen.
An independent judiciary and checks on executive powers are needed to combat impunity, Leuprecht wrote, but the failure to implement these “are neither accidental nor the result of neglect or incompetence.”
He said most human rights violations are not carried out by those in power but are instead condoned and the perpetrators later protected by their superiors.
“There can be little progress in the justice sector unless political decisions for delivering reform are made at the highest levels of government,” Leuprecht wrote.
But he added that in the “corruption-ridden” government, “there is a significant discrepancy between the private agendas of public officials and their formal public functions.”
Unfortunately, deals and contracts made by the government are often shrouded in secrecy, Leuprecht wrote, as highlighted by its “failed” land and economic concession policy.
The report states that information from the Ministry of Agriculture showed that as of Feb 2003, the Council of Ministers had approved 40 economic land concession covering 809,296 hectares.
The government has not only hidden the terms, conditions and parties involved for many of these contracts, Leuprecht said, but has also broken the law by granting concessions that exceed the legal limit of 10,000 hectares.
He condemned the concession system, saying it has failed to do anything to reduce poverty in the country or contribute to government revenue.
Instead, he said, it has created numerous problems and conflicts that, if left unchecked, “might…become a threat to political stability.”
Addressing both the government and the international community, Leuprecht repeated many of the recommendations he made last year, noting that the same problems he brought up then, and since he took up his position four years ago, remain unchecked.
“The Cambodian people have gone through a long—too long—period of terrible suffering,” he wrote. “The principal aim of the government and the international community must be to heal their wounds and reduce…suffering.”
Om Yentieng, Hun Sen’s adviser and chair of the government’s human rights committee, admitted Monday night that there are problems within the country, specifically the judicial system. But the government was working on the issue and should not be blamed, he said.
He downplayed the report and said Leuprecht was not acknowledging the government’s efforts to address corruption.
“We can’t satisfy him,” Om Yentieng said. “Peter’s too narrow-minded.”