CAMBODIA: Delegation attacks UN Special Representative, threatening human rights

(Hong Kong, June 15, 2007)

The Cambodian delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) launched an unprecedented and unwarranted attack on United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General for Human Rights in Cambodia, Professor Yash Ghai, during a session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva on June 12, 2007. The delegation attempted to dismiss the content of the report presented by the Special Representative to the international community, claiming that it focused solely on negative aspects. The Cambodian delegation, however, did not deny the veracity of the content of the report. This attack should be seen as nothing more than an attempt to circumvent the important, if embarrassing, content of the report and to renege on the country’s obligations to protect human rights.

At the end of the discussion on Cambodia, the country’s Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Chheang Vun, stated that Cambodia no longer accepted Mr. Ghai’s mandate in the country and called on the Human Rights Council to review the Special Representative’s nomination to this position. In doing so, Cambodia has effectively signaled that it will no longer cooperate with this important United Nations mechanism, which was created as the result of international consensus in order to further the respect for human rights and the re-building of the country as a whole.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is deeply concerned by the government’s reaction, as the Special Representative’s report contains many crucial elements that would permit Cambodia to move towards the effective protection and enjoyment of human rights. Yash Ghai is being targeted not because of any actual bias or selectivity in his work – he mentioned several positive developments, including the March 2007 ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture – but rather because he has focused on the inconvenient reality of human rights in the country. Amongst the main barriers to human rights highlighted in the Special Representative’s report are the lack of an independent judiciary, political repression and detentions, lack of progress concerning legal reforms, forced evictions, corruption, the lack of freedom of speech, violations of indigenous peoples’ land rights and impunity. All of these are central themes that the Asian Human Rights Commission repeatedly raises in its work and are the key hurdles facing the country at present.

The Cambodian government’s stance is unacceptable in itself and presages a further degradation of the human rights situation in the country. If the government is now unwilling even to cooperate with the international community’s human rights envoy, it is likely that it will also increasingly clamp down on local activists working in favour of human rights and dealing with the crucial issues raised by the Special Representative. This may also pave the way for future attacks on the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia. Given Cambodia’s terrible past, from which it is still struggling to emerge, any such signs of increasing authoritarianism and rejection of human rights and international cooperation must be taken extremely seriously.

Countries that provide financial and other support to Cambodia are scheduled to meet on June 19 and 20, 2007, to discuss the situation in the country. The AHRC urges these countries – which include Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States of America – to ensure that Cambodia abandons its current stance and begins to address the country’s pressing human rights situation in good faith, notably by implementing without fail all recommendations made by the United Nations Special Representative. Donor support should be conditional on such cooperation. Donors must also ensure that independence of the judiciary, notably by severing judges’ party-political affiliation; access to justice; an end to land-grabbing and forced evictions; and progress in the legal reforms currently under way are ensured, before pledging vast financial assistance to an increasingly hostile regime.

The AHRC also urges the Cambodia government to halt this policy of personal attacks and non-cooperation and instead move to address the significant human rights problems that plague the country.

Document Type : Press Release
Document ID : AHRC-PL-021-2007
Countries : Cambodia,