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CAMBODIA: Prime Minister attacks UN representative over comments on the state of the country's human rights

March 30, 2006

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ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

30 March 2006
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UA-111-2006: CAMBODIA: Prime Minister attacks UN representative over comments on the state of the country’s human rights

CAMBODIA: Attack on Special Representative of the Secretary General on human rights in Cambodia
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) writes to strongly condemn the comments made by Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen who launched a scathing attack on a UN envoy who criticised the government's record on human rights. At the end of his second mission as the Special Representative of the Secretary General on human rights in Cambodia, Professor Yash Ghai said that the one-man rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen, was preventing the growth of democracy and the possibility of human rights protection in the country. In response, the prime minister said that Professor Ghai was no longer welcome in the country and should be sacked by the UN.

This attack calls for international condemnation as well as a response from the United Nations itself. The AHRC urges Secretary-General Kofi Annan to unequivocally condemn Prime Minister Hun Sen’s comments, and show his support to Professor Ghai and the work of UN agencies in Cambodia. Such intervention should not be delayed given that past experience in similar situations has shown that threats and intimidation often follow. The Secretary-General should therefore act promptly in letting the Cambodian government know of his support for the special representative and others working for human rights in Cambodia.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write letters of concern to the Prime Minister of Cambodia regarding the comments he has made. Please also write to the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan calling for his intervention in this matter.

Suggested letter to the prime minister:

Dear Prime Minister

CAMBODIA: Special Representative of the Secretary General on human rights in Cambodia

I write with deep concern regarding your response to comments made on your country’s human rights situation by Special Representative of the Secretary General on human rights in Cambodia, Professor Yash Ghai. I am aware that Professor Ghai voiced his concerns regarding the protection of human rights in Cambodia.

Professor Ghai’s comments could have been accepted as constructive criticism and used to assess and reform the current framework. Instead, you chose to publicly criticise Professor Ghai and question the future relations between your country and the special representative.

However, if the human rights situation in Cambodia is to progress, it is the responsibility of the country’s leaders, particularly yourself, to take steps in line with the suggestions made by Professor Ghai, and his predecessors, and to cooperate in trying to ensure that all of Cambodia’s citizens receive the rights that they are entitled to.

Yours sincerely,

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTER TO:

Mr. Samdech Hun Sen
Prime Minister
Office of the Council of Ministers
Phnom Penh
Cambodia
Fax: + 855 23 426 054

PLEASE SEND A COPY TO:

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Cambodia
N° 10, Street 302
Sangkat Boeng Keng Kang I
Khan Chamcar Mon
Phnom Penh
CAMBODIA
Tel: +855 23 987 671 / 987 672, 993 590 / 993 591 or +855 23 216 342
Fax: +855 23 212 579, 213 587
P.O.Box: 108
Email: cohchr@online.com.kh

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Suggested letter to the UN General-Secretary:

Dear Mr. Annan

CAMBODIA: Prime Minister attacks UN representative over comments on the state of the country’s human rights

I write to you in relation to the response given by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in regards to comments made by the Special Representative of the Secretary General on human rights in Cambodia, Professor Yash Ghai. I am aware that Professor Ghai pointed to the stark fear present throughout Cambodia due to the one-man rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen, which prevents the growth of democracy and the possibility of human rights protection in the country. 

Given Cambodia’s current human rights record, Professor Ghai’s comments could have been accepted as constructive criticism and used to assess and reform the current framework. Instead, the prime minister chose to criticise Professor Ghai’s comments and point to the situation in other countries, which in no way excuses Cambodia from its own obligations to protect and ensure the rights of its citizens. The prime minister also chose to personally insult Professor Ghai and called for his sacking, neither of which will in any way improve the human rights situation in Cambodia.

Such comments by the prime minister undermine the role of the Special Representative of the Secretary General in Cambodia and others working for human rights in the country. Accordingly, the prime minister’s comments call for international condemnation, as well as a response from the United Nations itself. I ask that you immediately inform the Government of Cambodia of your support for Professor Ghai and ask that the comments be withdrawn. 

In the past, such attacks by the prime minister on individuals have been followed by threats and intimidation. I therefore request that you act promptly in letting the Cambodian government know of your support for Professor Ghai and others working for human rights in Cambodia.

Yours sincerely,

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTER TO:

Mr Kofi Annan
Secretary General of the United Nations
Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General
United Nations,
S-378, New York, NY 10017
USA
Tel: +1 212 963 5012
Fax: +1 212 963 7055 or 2155
E-mail: ecu@un.org, inquiries@un.org


Thank you.

Urgent Appeal Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ahrchk@ahrchk.org)

Document Type :
Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID :
UA-111-2006
Countries :
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Extended Introduction: Urgent Appeals, theory and practice

A need for dialogue

Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like. 

Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor. 

Though the media may cover the issues in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is rarely encouraged in the public realm.

There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those less fortunate.  Moral and ethical qualms can also be an obstacle.

In this way, causes for complaint go unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

Changing society

In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and were therefore controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

Practical action

The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.   

At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

"The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right."

Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks, national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies.  The program and its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region.