Today, 10 December, marks International Human Rights Day (“IHRD”). Proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1950, IHRD aims to bring the world’s attention to theUniversal Declaration of Human Rights(“UDHR”) as “the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.” However, despite the dramatic improvement in Cambodia’s human rights situation since the Khmer Rouge atrocities of the 1970s, human rights violations remain a serious problem in Cambodian society, with those from poor and marginalized communities particularly affected. IHRD is an important moment for the human rights community in Cambodia to raise their concerns, and over the last few days human rights defenders (“HRDs”), monks, activists and civil society groups marched from across the country to Phnom Penh. They gathered outside the National Assembly this morning to call for, among other things, improved labour rights, land rights, and the release of imprisoned fellow activists.
Yesterday, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (“CCHR”) launched an exhibition entitled, “Where is My Justice?”, which highlights Cambodia’s deeply rooted culture of impunity and shares the experiences of victims of human rights violations. Impunity affects a wide range of people in Cambodia, from demonstrators subjected to excessive use of force by the police and judicial harassment, to people forcibly evicted from their homes in illegal land grabs or members of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community who face discrimination and attacks; all have failed to receive justice for crimes committed against them. Continue reading →
Cambodians are not alone in their fight against impunity and injustice; a global movement for an end to impunity has emerged.
Today, 23 November 2014, marks the fifth anniversary of the world’s largest single attack on journalists – the Maguindanao or Ampatuan massacre – in which 32 journalists were killed in the Philippines. To date, no one has been held accountable for the killings, and this is not the only case. It has therefore become an international day of action to end impunity. Impunity, which means “without punishment” or “without consequence”, is a global issue. In the past 10 years, over 700 journalists have been killed globally, and according to UNESCO approximately 90% of these murders have been met with impunity. However, the world has not been silent, and powerful campaigns are placing pressure on governments around the world to take action to end impunity.
Today, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (“CCHR”) launches its annual End Impunity Campaign, marking the United Nations’ first International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. CCHR is highlighting the rampant nature of impunity in Cambodia, and calling on people across Cambodia and the world to take a stance against it. To show the Royal Government of Cambodia (the “RGC”) the widespread public support for ending impunity, throughout November, we are collecting photos of individuals holding signs pledging to take a stance against impunity. These photos will be printed onto a giant poster and delivered to the Ministry of Justice on 2 December 2014, to push the RGC to take action.
Impunity, which means “without punishment” or “without consequence”, is rampant in Cambodia. Often, those who violate human rights are well-connected individuals, who go unpunished as a result of their status. Incidents of impunity vary from murder cases of human rights activists and journalists that are never investigated, to cases where security forces have used excessive violence against civilians and remain unpunished, to well-connected officials evading justice.
Yesterday, during the 27th session of the Human Rights Council, Professor Surya P. Subedi presented his last report as the United Nations (the “UN”) Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia.
UN Special Rapporteur Surya P. Subedi. (c) CCHR
The work of the Special Rapporteur involves independently investigating the human rights situation by visiting Cambodia biannually, and reporting to the UN Human Rights Council. At the conclusion of the twelfth reporting period, from 1 July 2013 – 24 July 2014, and after fulfilling the maximum six-year term, the Special Rapporteur has a deep understanding of the challenges facing Cambodia. The candid and honest nature of the report is unsurprising following his press conference at the conclusion of his last visit to Cambodia in June.
The report expresses that overall the human rights situation is generally heading in a positive direction. The Special Rapporteur praises the Royal Government of Cambodia (the “RGC”) for adopting some of his recommendations, and for willingly meeting with him. He further powerfully asserts that:
‘The year 2013 was the year in which the Cambodian people found their voice, and the Special Rapporteur is convinced that Cambodia has embarked on a new path from which there is no turning back.’
Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt of the United States holding a Declaration of Human Rights poster in English. November 1949. Credit: UN Photo
The Cambodian Center for Human Rights works to improve the human rights situation for all people in Cambodia. This is incredibly important work which can genuinely make a difference to the people of Cambodia. However, CCHR recognizes that not everyone knows what human rights are, or how their lives would change if all human rights were available to them.
The idea behind “human rights” is that there are certain activities which every individual, everywhere should be able to exercise or experience in their lives. Everyone has the right to life, and to live their lives freely and securely. It is built on the notion that human rights are universal, indivisible, and inalienable. “Universal” means that these rights apply to everyone, whether you’re male, female or transgender, no matter which country you or your family comes from, irrespective of which religion or political party you follow, and so on. “Indivisible” means that all of the rights are so connected that they cannot be experienced in full without all the other rights being fully realized as well. “Inalienable” means that human rights cannot be given away, they are an implicit part of being human.
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.