Cambodian News Seen from Abroad – Sunday, 1.3.2009

Posted on 2 March 2009. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 601 | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 601

This week’s reflection is written in Mexico at a meeting of ICANN. The fact that I had started the first Internet service in Cambodia in 1994 and created the country name for Internet addresses .kh led, after many steps in between, to my appointment to the Nominating Committee of the international Internet coordination – “ICANN” for short, for a somewhat technical name “Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers” – where we are now tasked to find, recruit, and appointing new members of the Board of Directors for ICANN, and for several other positions of leadership in ICANN. On the way to Mexico I had a chance to meet persons of Internet leadership in an Asia Pacific Internet conference of several hundred people in the Philippines.

Attending such conferences exposes me always to questions about Cambodia by people from different countries, who ask for comments and explanations about what they see on TV and hear on the radio, read in newspapers, or follow up further on the Internet. Those who ask have some level of information, based on their active interest. And they ask, because they want to understand better what they know.

This is often difficult – I cannot answer on behalf of any other person or institution. But I think it is still important that the public opinion in a country is aware of the public opinion outside of the country, that is why I share this experience.

This time, attending Internet related conferences, the question of recent restrictions of Internet access was of course addressed. It has been known that some countries, for political or other reasons, are restricting the free flow of information on the Internet. But as the censorship of the Internet is considered to be in contradiction, or maybe even in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which many countries including Cambodia have subscribed, such events are being observed internationally.

Paragraph 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

The following different cases are known:

  • The site http://reahu.net of a Cambodian artist cannot be accessed from Cambodia.
  • The site of the human rights organization LICADHO http://www.licadho.org is no longer accessible, since it published a report about the violent evictions in the Dey Krahom area of Phnom Penh.
  • The site of Global Witness http://www.globalwitness.org was not accessible for about two days after they had published a documentation about Cambodia under the title A Country for Sale. That the Cambodian Embassy in London called this documentation, the result of detailed research by the internationally respected organization Global Witness a Collection of Rubbish without taking up specific items in the documentation is considered as an evasive response to very specific problems documented.

While I could share information about the context of these three cases, I was not able to refer to texts of Cambodian law, which state the reasons for the interruptions of Internet access – obviously in three quite different cases. The Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia says in Article 31:

The Kingdom of Cambodia shall recognize and respect human rights as stipulated in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human rights, the covenants and conventions related to human rights, women’s and children’s rights.

Every Khmer citizens shall be equal before the law, enjoying the same rights, freedom and fulfilling the same obligations regardless of race, color, sex, language, religious belief, political tendency, birth origin, social status, wealth or other status. The exercise of personal rights and freedom by any individual shall not adversely affect the rights and freedom of others. The exercise of such rights and freedom shall be in accordance with the law.

Apart from these questions related to the field of communications, I was made aware how much the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia – the Khmer Rouge Trials – get international attention. This is a kind of next step beyond the usual connection of the name of the country Cambodia with Killing Fields and genocide. Reports about corruption and kickback allegations at the court, and the related inconclusive discussions, because United Nations investigative reports have not been published, have been in the media in many countries. And it is observed that the legal arrangements had required many years of negotiations, leading to results for the court set up which are very different from other international courts which deal with past events in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, or the former Yugoslavia.

Finally, I was at a loss to find an answer when faced with the question why Cambodia joined with the military dictatorship in Burma – which had taken power years ago, rejecting the legitimately elected representatives of the people – when the Cambodian Prime Minister threatened to disassociate himself from the majority of ASEAN leaders, by not accepting the civil society participation from Cambodia in the ASEAN discussion on how to create an ASEAN human rights body. I did not want to accept the interpretation and opinion that this seems to be the beginning of a new period of Cambodian international self-isolation.

But when I share these encounters, I do so in the hope that there will be more awareness of how Cambodia is seen from abroad – from the international community of nations. During the years after the UNTAC administration 1992/93, it had been a major goal of the Cambodian governments to regain a place in the fellowship of the countries in the region – especially in ASEAN – and to regain the seat in the United Nations, becoming again a normal member of the counties of the world, after the decades of internal conflicts and external interventions.

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One Response to “Cambodian News Seen from Abroad – Sunday, 1.3.2009”

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Hello Norbert – Happy to see you are back on line with the Mirror. Excellent insights. I hope all is well with you and your family. We are in Vientiane on new project since Sept 2007. Send me a note so I can have your current email address.

All the best – Jeff Blume


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