UN Rights Envoy Slams Gov’t on All Fronts

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.”

 

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