Week 539 – 2007-12-23: Exercising Public Duties – Subverting Justice by Private Interests

Posted on 24 December 2007. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 539 |

The Mirror, Vol. 11, No. 539

It is part of the task of the media not only to report and interpret current affairs, but also to remind the public about the wider context of current events – to put them into historical perspective, to remember similar events in the past, and to relate the present to the past.

On 17 June of this year, the title of the weekly editorial of The Mirror said: “…illegal logging, corruption, and land grabbing, are serious problems…” And we had quoted a statement by another person saying that to have a decent future, Cambodia will have to get “some negative problems to come under control: like corruption, illegal logging, and the fact that there is no real separation between the executive, the legislative, and the power of the courts.” To write this did not cause any problem.

However, when Yash Ghai, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Human Rights in Cambodia, made critical statements now, he was harshly criticized for words which were very similar to what we had written in June. Actually, the words referred to in June were not Yash Ghai’s, but the words of the outgoing German ambassador. He also criticized the government for confiscating a controversial Global Witness report and commented that “illegal logging spreads in Cambodia and positions in forestry administration are sold or put up for bid.” We have also mirrored reports that the US ambassador has said, “I am concerned about illegal logging, corruption, and land grabbing, which are serious problems against which the Cambodian government should take action…. I believe that it would be better if the Cambodian government and Global Witness would discuss with each other.”

Did not all three persons use very similar words? Why then the different reactions?

Some other differences can also be observed. Not only were the statements by the German ambassador not rejected – this week it is even reported that the Ministry of Finance asked Germany to help to train auditors. Yet Yash Ghai met with unfounded personal attacks. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation is reported to have held a press conference condemning his report, including a charge that his salary depends on writing negative reports – but actually he is not even salaried by the United Nations; it is surprising that officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not inform themselves better about such affairs. The Cambodian ambassador to the United Nations is quoted as having called Mr. Yash Ghai a person lacking a proper civilized status. Such a comment disregards the outstanding international reputation of Mr. Yash Ghai as a legal scholar who has fulfilled manifold assignments in different countries and has earned great praise for it; the comment also implicitly criticizes the former and present UN Secretaries-General who appointed and have maintained Mr. Yash Ghai as the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Human Rights in Cambodia.

Such criticism is observed internationally, and it reflects on both sides – those who criticize and those who are criticized. The Global Witness report on deforestation in Cambodia would hardly have received such wide international interest, if the Cambodian government had not prohibited its distribution in Cambodia. This past week, Global Witness got even a Gold Medal for the report from the US based Center for Global Development in Washington, where also leading World Bank persons are involved.

This week’s brutal beating of some of a small group of unarmed and unprotected Buddhist monks by Cambodian police – reportedly with electric batons, “cattle prods” developed and normally used to control wild cattle – provided a dramatic comment on the human rights situation in the country. It will also be important to observe the further developments in Ratanakiri, where a group of people was gathering to appeal that the publicly announced position of the Prime Minister against deforestation and land grabbing be upheld – but they were intercepted forcefully and violently by the local authorities.

Another report this week shows that the struggle against corrupt practices is further escalating. Staff members of Cambodia Telecom stood up to denounce some bad practices of their supervisors, persons with public responsibilities who brought their personal economic interests into the execution of their duties – a situation unfortunately not uncommon also in other fields. But their appeal to the highest authority in government is reported to have been blocked from reaching the Prime Minister. In this context, a daughter of the Prime Minister is reported to have been described as “useless and incompetent to support and … to steal from the nation” by the accused perpetrators of corruption.

There are frequent appeals to the Prime Minister, sometimes also to his wife, to intervene when injustice is done and people have lost confidence in the due process of law enforcement by the legal system and the police. For some people, this is their last hope. And some remember that the Prime Minister himself has warned that continued oppression of the poor without control of the unlawful power of some rich people could lead again to wide popular uprisings.

The US ambassador said recently, “Journalists and the media have an important an role in democratic regimes.” This week shows how true this is.

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