ASIA: Three countries in human rights limbo: Nepal, Burma/Myanmar and Cambodia

As the Sixty-first Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is taking place in Geneva, we would like to draw attention to the colossal absence of human rights in three countries in the Asia region.  The countries are Nepal, Burma/Myanmar and Cambodia.  While Burma/Myanmar and Cambodia have been on this list for quite some time, Nepal is a new addition.

Some of the common features in the human rights situations of these three countries are as follows:

Extreme levels of intimidation on the population are a common occurrence with the government and its agents regularly committing extra judicial killings and torture; a complete absence of protection mechanisms, including a judiciary, which are capable of protecting citizens; the license given to police and the military to exploit the population for their own gain; and the silencing of all forms of political opinion that attempts to present alternatives to the people to overcome this situation and to rebuild their societies such as the complete absence of freedom for the media and civil society organisations to expose what is going on within the country.  Added to this list of violations of basic civil rights is the vast impoverishment of the people except for a select few who are completely privileged and are not under the control of any law.

Cambodia received the attention of the international community who tried to improve the situation by way of UN Peace Keeping intervention known as the United Nations Transitional Authority for Cambodia.  The Authority helped to stage the country’s first election in May, 1993 after the Pol Pot period and to establish a legitimate authority for Cambodia.  However, the human rights situation in the country remains no better now than it was in 1993.  Reports of the killing of prisoners, the absence of the independence of the judiciary in any form, repression of the legitimately elected opposition, and the impunity available to the military and the police remain as entrenched as ever.  As the UN Special Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia has noted, the Cambodian judiciary:

“does not and cannot act in an independent and impartial manner when faced with the interests of those with economic and political power and influence.  It has continued to be subject to executive interference and open to corruption, and human rights problems have gone unchecked.”

Conversely, Burma/Myanmar and Nepal have not received the attention of the international community as in the case of Cambodia.  Despite many calls for intervention from people within these countries, as well as outside, the international community has failed to take any significant steps.

What is common amongst these three countries is the absence of human.  The life for the average citizen is a nightmare.  The insecurity of the citizens is rife.  This is made even worse by the absence of hope from both those living in these conditions and those observing them.

In an earlier letter addressed to the global community issued on 17 March 2005, entitled ‘Open letter to the global human rights community: Let us rise to meaningful dialogue’, the Asian Human Rights Commission drew attention to the dismal situation of human rights in countries outside those considered developed democracies.  While many other countries face eroding human rights standards, Nepal, Burma/Myanmar and Cambodia remain starkly among the worst.

At this 61st Session of the Human Rights Commission and all other similar deliberations, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and all others in the human rights community should examine their position regarding these three countries.  What in human rights theory and practice has prevented more effective involvement of the international community to improve the human rights situation in these countries?  Can the difficulties involved in diplomatic manoeuvring that frustrates the evolution of better strategies be used to wash the hands of the international community of the responsibilities regarding the life and liberty of the people in these countries?

Thus a key question that must be addressed at this years Session of the CHR is: how can these three countries raise above the debilitating human rights situation they now face?  If this question is not addressed this year, then when the issue is raised again at next years Session, the situation will only be worse. The international community must pursue the human rights mission, as enshrined in the UN Charter and other covenants and conventions on human rights, if the situation is to improve in Nepal, Burma/Myanmar and Cambodia.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-35-2005
Countries : Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Nepal,
Issues : Administration of justice, Judicial system, Rule of law,