CAMBODIA'S performance at its first reporting meeting with the United Nations
Human Rights Committee (HRC) has drawn fire from rights groups, who say the
government was unprepared - and perhaps unwilling - to discuss its human rights
When the government's designated representative failed to appear
before the HRC in New York City to answer questions about Cambodia's compliance
with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Committee
adjourned the whole proceeding until July.
Cambodia was slated to answer
the HRC's questions on Mar 30, 1999. The government requested a delay one week
before the session, which was granted.
At the new Apr 7 session, Om Yen
Tieng, head of the National Human Rights Committee and adviser to Prime Minister
Hun Sen, failed to appear. A representative from Cambodia's UN mission arrived
and explained that Yen Tieng had fallen ill on the West Coast.
the Post traced Yen Tieng to the Oyada Travel Agency in Long Beach, California.
An employee who answered the phone on Apr 7 said Yen Tieng was out "picking up
some papers". On the morning of Apr 8, the employee said Yen Tieng was "out
Asked where he was on Apr 7, Yen Tieng said: "They can
check everything. I was sick." Told of the conversation with the travel agency,
he said: "They want to make problems, they say what they want."
Tieng's absence, the UN Committee attempted to ask their specific, pointed and
well-researched questions of his replacement, Sun Suon. By his own admission, he
was not prepared to answer, despite the fact that the HRC gives its questions to
governments up to several weeks ahead of time.
The Lawyers Committee for
Human Rights observed the session and slammed the government's performance. "By
failing to prepare, the government delayed [the process of dialogue] and
diminished its own ability to demonstrate its good faith," said Robert Weiner,
Director of Protection.
When the UN Committee asked: "What mechanisms are
in place to promote the independence of the judiciary, and to ensure that they
have no political allegiance and that they are provided with adequate training
and resources? What measures of protection exist for magistrates subjected to
intimidation? How are instances of corruption in the administration of justice
investigated? Please give examples," Suon reportedly began: "I am unable to
answer this in any detail."
The Committee, in a step called "unusual" by
rights groups, adjourned the session - which lasted only 10 minutes - and
rescheduled it for July, as the question period appeared pointless.
Lawyers Committee said in a statement it "regrets" the session did not take
place. It noted the significance of the Covenant, and underlined that Cambodia's
commitments to report to the HRC "are serious and should be honored".
human rights matters, the government's track record with international
institutions has been spotty," said Weiner. "The international community has
given Cambodia a lot of rope in recognition of the difficulties inherent in
rebuilding a society and a government in the wake of genocide. It is time,
however, for the government to use deeds, not words, to demonstrate its
commitment to human rights."
Several representatives of local rights
groups had flown to New York to brief the Committee prior to the abortive Mar 30
session. One called the whole situation "truly disappointing".
rights system functions best when all actors make a concerted effort to address
the issues seriously," Weiner noted. "The UN experts were ready; the NGOs had
worked hard and traveled great distances. The government, unfortunately,
One member of the UN Committee reportedly suggested to Sun
Suon that the Cambodian government prepare written answers to the Committee's
questions for the July session "in case of another sudden illness".
Amnesty International's experience, Committee members are serious people who
care about upholding the rights guaranteed by the ICCPR," said Amnesty's Demelza
Stubbings. "There would be no point to the process if a government's report were
accepted at face value, no questions asked."
Under the International
Convention on Civil and Political Rights, governments must make a written report
on their protection of human rights within one year of signing the treaty.
Cambodia signed in 1993 but did not submit its report until Nov 1997.
Although it was three years late, rights groups called the 400-paragraph
report incomplete as it makes no mention of several glaring incidents of
In a section which addresses the right to life, the
government report details a number of killings carried out by the Khmer Rouge,
but not any of the over 80 killings documented by the UN around the time of the
July 1997 coup, still unsolved.
In the section on freedom of assembly,
the government describes the 1995 grenade attack on the offices of the Buddhist
Liberal Democratic Party, which killed no one, but not the March 30, 1997
grenade attack on an opposition rally which killed at least 16. Both remain
Ith Rady, a member of the interministerial committee, said the
report was finalized in September 1996 and thus did not include incidents after
that, such as the grenade attack or the coup.
Updates to reports are not
required by the UN Human Rights Committee, but its followup questions - the ones
Om Yen Tieng was slated to answer - always address the rights situation to date,
"A government which chooses not to prepare for questions on
everything that has happened to date risks looking pretty foolish ... the HRC's
job is not to take reports at face value," said one longtime Cambodia analyst.
"It is not rocket science to work out that there were major holes in the
govern-ment's report - even if one accepts that they submitted in good
In contrast, UN rights envoy Thomas Hammarberg submitted a
separate report to a different UN body which highlighted government inaction on
Hammarberg's report, given to the UN Commission on
Human Rights in Geneva this month, cites UN reports of 130 deaths or
disappearances since March 30, 1997. He mentions by name the case of Ho Sok,
Secretary of State for Interior, who was killed inside the Ministry during the
July 1997 coup.
In his strongest language to date, Hammarberg wrote that
he "has the distinct impression that serious investigations into the grenade
attack, the killings and the other murder attempts have indeed been blocked by
powerful elements within the police and the military".
The rights envoy
also continued his campaign against article 51 of the Law on Civil Servants,
saying it "in reality institutionalizes impunity". The article prohibits
prosecution of civil servants (including police or military, who are often
accused of abuses in Cambodia) without Ministry permission.
government rights report, which was drafted by the Interministerial Committee on
Reporting Obligations, does not mention article 51 as an impediment to ensuring
victims' right to a remedy for human rights violations.
government does point out other problems in Cambodia's judicial system which
Hammarberg has also cited.
"[P]ractice has shown that, owing to
interference and pressure from other branches, the courts are not fully
independent," the government writes, noting that judges and witnesses may be
intimidated or bribed. "Interference. . . most often takes the form of pressure,
obstruction of proceedings and threats by those in power. . ."
and the government also both acknowledge longstanding problems of police torture
in exacting confessions from suspects, of the continued use of leg irons and
shackles in prisons, and that suspects are sometimes held without charge or
trial longer than is stipulated in law.
In addition, they both note
women's lack of participation in the labor force, especially in politics.
Hammarberg writes that women's opportunities are constrained partly by "what
appears to be discrimination against them."
On the other hand, the
government states flatly: "The limited participation of women in politics is not
the result of discrimination. It is mainly due to the fact that women have
traditionally taken little interest in politics."
Denied he evaded a UN session where he was to defend Cambodia's
performance in preventing and punishing human rights abuses.
"[I have] the distinct impression that serious investigations
have indeed been blocked by powerful elements within the police and the
Notes 130 unsolved
deaths/disappearances since 3/30/97?
Notes unsolved 3/30/97 grenade
attack, 16 dead/100+ injured?
Notes unsolved 7/97 murder of
H.E. Ho Sok in Interior Ministry?
Notes courts not independent
corruption/intimidation of judges?
Mentions art. 51, notes it
Notes police torture/inhumane
prison treatment/illegal detention?
Notes lack of womenís
participation in politics?
Notes discrimination against