On the 24th of June representatives from CCHR attended the press conference held by Professor Surya P. Subedi, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, at the end of his most recent visit to Cambodia. As a United Nations Special Rapporteur, his role is to visit Cambodia twice a year to investigate the current human rights situation, and then report back to the UN Human Rights Council on his findings. Even though he is described as the “United Nations” Special Rapporteur, Professor Subedi is not employed by the UN, the idea being that he is able to offer an independent assessment and perspective as a result of his visits.
UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia’s press conference
The press conference was an initial summary of the result of his visit (full statement here in English and Khmer) and Professor Subedi will present a formal report to the UN in September. This was his 11th visit to the country in this role, so he was able to talk broadly about the human rights situation in Cambodia. Some of it was positive, but for the most part he was very concerned with what he found. Professor Subedi covered a broad range of human rights issues, from land and labor rights to access to democratic spaces, to reform of the judiciary, constitution, electoral and parliamentary frameworks, and other governance institutions.
It is fitting that the theme of this year’s campaign on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture is ‘fighting impunity’ as torturers in Cambodia are rarely punished for their actions and in some cases those who have been accused of committing or overseeing grave acts of violence in the past, including acts of torture, remain in positions of power today.
CCHR Report – Fair Trial Rights in Cambodia, Monitoring of the Court of Appeal
The right to be judged fairly and impartially by an independent court is an absolute right that should never be violated. However, in Cambodia fair trial rights have long been an area of concern and with recent legislation having further weakened the independence of the judiciary; a heavy spotlight should be on the courts, judges and prosecutors.
CCHR’s Trial Monitoring Project has provided that spotlight since 2009 and has since built a bridge of dialogue between the courts and civil society to address individuals’ rights violations. The report released today by CCHR is the result of data gathered from 204 cases CCHR team monitored at the Court of Appeal in the past year and highlights the challenges individuals face regarding their right to a fair trial.
Today – 20 June 2014 – is World Refugee Day. Around the world, people are raising awareness about the plight of millions of people who have been displaced by war, persecution, abuse, and fear. Yet, despite international law which requires countries to protect refugees and asylum seekers, the international community continues to fail to protect the human rights of these people. Here in Cambodia, an unwelcome agreement with Australia is threatening to erode international law and to affect the fundamental rights of hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers.
February 2014: The Australian press reveals negotiations between the Australian and Cambodian governments. A Memorandum of Understanding has been drafted, under which hundreds of people who had initially sought asylum in Australia may be sent to Cambodia. Details of the agreement have been kept secret, but the media mentions that it could affect up to 2,500 people. The Cambodian government repeats that the people concerned by the agreement will be coming to Cambodia on a volunteer basis. Still, can such a choice be freely made, as Australia has made it clear that those people will never be admitted on its soil?
The refugees and asylum seekers in question are those whom Australia shuts far away from its borders, in Nauru and on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, which according to Amnesty International, amounts to arbitrary detention and illegal expulsion of asylum seekers. In Manus, poor living conditions led to violent protests, one death, and about sixty persons injured in February. Australia is certainly ill-at-ease with these shameful events. Sadly, it has decided to replace one illegal option with another.
The ruling Cambodian People’s Party has voted to give itself powers over the judiciary through a set of laws that bypass both the constitution and international standards guaranteeing an independent judiciary. Citizens have long felt the effects of a politicized judiciary, suffering from partial and unjust verdicts that have reflected the hand of the government rather than the application of the rule of law. This unofficial practice has now been cemented into law through a parliament free from opposition, scrutiny and debate.
After 10 years of waiting, it took only two months for the laws to be passed through the Council of Ministers, the National Assembly and the Senate. The secretly drafted laws were tactfully announced before a national holiday, in the knowledge that interested groups and media would be absent; release dates and information were bought back and forth preventing civil society from presenting an organized response. The laws were passed through a single party National Assembly amid an opposition boycott and were finally given the seal of approval by the Senate on Friday June 13th free from amendments or review.
Since the beginning of June, Cambodian migrant workers have been fleeing from Thailand back to Cambodia, through the border crossing at Poipet, due to fears of an alleged crackdown by the Thai military junta on undocumented migrant workers. Since the mass exodus began, an estimated 122,000 Cambodians have already returned to Cambodia.
Information and details remain unclear. Although the Thai junta announced earlier this week that arrests of illegal workers in the country and deportations would occur, they vehemently deny claims of violence and a mass crackdown against these workers, stating that the panicked flights are being propelled by unsubstantiated rumors and hearsay. Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Sek Wannamethee claimed on Friday that the mass departures are in fact voluntary, and that many are returning to Cambodia to assist with rice farming at home. In addition, most returnees who were interviewed at the border have not actually witnessed violence or a forced eviction themselves.
The Sithi Blog is a new project of the Sithi Portal, an award-winning web portal which collates information related to human rights in Cambodia. The Sithi Portal is maintained by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), a leading non-aligned, independent, non-governmental organization that works to promote and protect democracy and respect for human rights – primarily civil and political rights – in Cambodia.
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