Cambodia, UNPO speaks about indigenous issues

Forced evictions, labour rights, judiciary issues, the role of the EU in Cambodia, as well as political and institutional factors impacting on human rights were among the list of issues discussed during a hearing on Cambodia facilitated by Human Rights Without Frontiers at the European Parliament on 17 November 2009. The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) was invited to speak.

The Hearing was chaired by Niccolò Rinaldi (Vice President of ALDE group) and moderated by Edward McMillan-Scott (VP European Parliament) alongside Willy Fautre (Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers). The panels were composed of representatives from the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (Ms Maggie Murphy, Program Coordinator), Cambodian Government (H.E. Ambassador Mr. Rudi Veestraeten), the United Nations (Prof. Surya P. Subedi, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Cambodia), the European Commission (Mr. Seamus Gillespie, Head of Unit), the Center for Development Research and Cooperation (Dr. Prof. Tazeen Murshid), Amnesty International (Susi Dennison, Executive Director), International Trade Union Confederation (June Sorensen), The Cambodian Association for Human Rights (Mr. Thun Saray, President and former political prisoner) and Human Rights Watch (Brad Adams, Asia Director).

Forced evictions, labor rights, judiciary issues, the role of the EU in Cambodia, as well as political and institutional factors impacting on human rights in Cambodia were among the list of issues discussed during the hearing. Panelists shared valuable information on several topics to describe the current status of human rights in Cambodia.

Susi Dennison, Executive Officer of Amnesty International explained how the ongoing violence against women subsequently leading to forced evictions can be traced back to their lack of civil and political rights.

On the other hand, Mr Thun Saray, former political prisoner and President of the Cambodian Association for Human Rights raised deep concerns about the failure of Cambodia’s justice system to provide a political environment that would safeguard fundamental human rights of both Cambodians and its defenders in the country.

The international community is aware of Cambodia’s ratification of 7 out of 8 labour rights laws. However, June Sorensen of the International Trade Union Confederation stressed that the majority of Cambodia’s workforce remains completely unaware of labour rights making it difficult for trade unions to operate in Cambodia.

Mr. Seamus Gillespie, Head of Unit of the European Commission recognized that Cambodia has entered the process of recovery. However whilst the country has achieved some level of stability, as the elections in 2008 showcased, international standards on electoral processes have not been followed. Furthermore, not all violations against human rights in Cambodia are accurately reported especially those committed during the dictatorship. Mr Brad Adams, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, stressed this issue saying that crimes committed in the past should not be forgotten by simply concentrating on the recent ones.

Maggie Murphy, Program Coordinator of UNPO, spoke on four major issues of great concern to the Khmer Kampuchea-Krom and the Montagnards: land rights claims and subsequent forced relocation, religious persecution, violence and torture and forced repatriation.

Ms Murphy reiterated that these issues should be primarily addressed by acknowledging the indigenous status of both the Khmer Kampuchea Krom people and the Montagnards. The unfortunate fact is that Cambodia can sign and ratify all international declarations and agreements pertaining to indigenous peoples but unless the people of Khmer Krom and the Montagnards are acknowledged as such, every declaration is meaningless. Thus, the first step in effecting significant changes to the lives of the marginalized peoples of Khmer Krom and Montagnards is to give them the status of indigenous peoples and then ensure that constant international pressure is applied to Cambodian authorities to ensure that they abide by these international agreements.

UNPO suggests a more active role for EU in Cambodia

There are significant political and institutional factors that impede the forceful repatriation of Khmer and Montagnard refugees from Cambodia to Vietnam. UNPO hopes that the EU will put pressure on Cambodia to sign and ratify the ILO Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, with the aim of respecting the traditions of indigenous peoples in relation to the use of their ancestral lands.

Lack of Political Will

In contrast to the presentations by the majority of panelists, the Ambassador of Cambodia strongly affirmed that the concept of “freedom of expression in Cambodia is very strange” and further elaborated that “freedom of expression is in place”. He contended that this is especially true in the areas of civil and political rights. However, whilst sufficient mechanisms are in place to adequately guarantee the rights of minorities and indigenous groups, the implementation has been severely lacking. Issues addressed in the hearing can only be tackled if the Cambodian government demonstrates a strong sense of political will to ensure that the human rights of the aforementioned groups are safeguarded.

Ms Murphy concluded by explaining that many similar recommendations were made by states and NGOs as Vietnam recently underwent examination under the UPR process. On 24 September the review ended with Vietnam rejecting 45 of the Human Rights Council’s recommendations, which demonstrated a lack of commitment to securing fundamental human rights. UNPO hopes that Cambodia will be more receptive to the UPR process, and that they will facilitate it, rather than obstruct it through rejections and rebuttals. Political will is fundamental to guaranteeing the improvement of the human rights situation in Cambodia.

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