Cambodia as a Member of the International Community of States – Sunday, 11.10.2009
The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 633
Serious questions surfaced during the week about the meaning of the consequences when a state has resolved to sign international covenants, and has entered into certain agreements of international cooperation.
The discussion of the draft Penal Code in the National Assembly, during several days on the way towards its adoption, revealed some surprising elements – some of a formalistic nature, others relating to substantive understandings.
Article 88 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia states clearly and simply: “The National Assembly sessions shall be held in public.”
When, on 6 October 2009, crucial draft articles were to be discussed, two members of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia were asked to leave the observation gallery. This was later explained to be a measure related to security concerns – but the same persons had attended the meeting unencumbered during previous days. – And it is remembered that ambassadors and several embassy staff members from different countries were prevented on 23 June 2009 to enter and to observe the session, when the immunity of a member of an opposition party was to be discussed.
The present debate took place several days after Dr. Surya Subedi, the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, an intergovernmental UN body where 47 member states are represented, shared his first report to the Council on 1 October 2009. When Mr. Yim Sovann, a member of the National Assembly from the Sam Rainsy Party, referred to Dr. Subedi’s concern about legal provisions for the freedom of expression, Mr. Ai Khan, a member of the National Assembly from the Cambodian People’s Party, is reported to have said: “I do not know who Subedi is… he does not understand about the words criticizing, scorning, and defaming… I want to notify H.E. Yim Sovann: Do not raise a foreigner’s ideas for discussion here.” Mr. Cheam Yeap, a member of the National Assembly also from the Cambodian People’s Party, had also been reported to respond to a reference to Dr. Subedi as “a foreigner’s request concerning this.” And Mr. Chheang Vun, the chairperson of the Assembly’s Commission on Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation, Media and Information, rejected Dr. Subedi’s statements as a violation of Cambodia’s sovereignty.
Dr. Subedi had not been speaking just “as a foreigner,” in fulfilling a mandate given to him by the UN Human Rights Council. In response to having been told that all Cambodian court actions had been conducted in accordance with Cambodian laws, he had not spoken to violate Cambodia’s sovereignty, but stated that he was “concerned that the laws in question themselves fell short of the standards required by international human rights treaties and practice, and that Cambodia’s judiciary was taking a restrictive approach in interpreting these laws, ultimately leading to excessive restrictions on freedom of expression.” Dr. Subedi is just expressing what is assumed internationally and in general: when a state accedes to international human rights treaties, it is assumed that they will be adhered to – they are not “a foreigner’s opinion.” They are part of multilateral intergovernmental agreements being clarified.
The discussion of the draft Penal Code in the National Assembly showed that by Saturday, 10 October 2009, 525 of the 672 articles had been approved – without a single change, in spite of the many questions for clarification, or suggestions for changes by Assembly members of the opposition parties. This absolute unity of opinion of the deputies of the Cambodian People’s Party is at least surprising in view of Article 77 of the Constitution: “The deputies in the National Assembly shall represent the entire Khmer people, not only Khmers from their constituencies. Any imperative mandate shall be nullified.” Not one of them seems to have thought to pronounce a different position from the majority. And this while they are – by the Constitution! – not bound by any “imperative mandate” ordering them what position to take. It is no surprise that Ms. Mu Sochua, a member of an opposition party, asked in view of the way the debate did not lead to the slightest change of the draft, why to spend more time in such kind of discussion: “I think we should just put a stamp on it.”
Another serious conflict of understanding, difficult to solve, is the warning by the Prime Minister, “that the government will not accept, or even stop receiving foreign aid, if aid is linked with conditions. Recently, the government has canceled the assistance of the World Bank for a land registration program.”
This is obviously a double threat: not only a warning towards the members of parliament in the countries which have to discuss and to negotiate how much money from the taxpayers of their country they will make available for which purposes and under which conditions. As a person from ADHOC pointed out, it is a threat also against those people of Cambodia who might benefit from such international aid.
In the case of the World Bank, their conditions were actually what both sides – the World Bank and the Cambodian government – had agreed upon together, about a Land Management and Administration Program: under which conditions Cambodians living on a certain piece of land for a certain period of time could get an ownership title for this land. But when the World Bank discovered and raised their observation, that the agreement is not applied evenly, the Prime Minister canceled the cooperation. The Program was applied mostly in rural areas, but people in certain settlements in the city do not get land titles, but are “evicted” or, to use the new wording of the government, are “temporarily relocated” (which often involved massive violence).
The aid, of which the Prime Minister is reported to be tired, relate to “linking it with conditions about the respect of human rights, the solution of land disputes, resettlement of the poor, and especially the creation of an anti-corruption law, an old intent of Cambodia,” as a newspaper explained.
Various pronouncements of the Prime Minister over the years had stated clearly that these are also his own political goals, when he said that a new farmers’ revolution might happen if land grabbing continues, and it is the Prime Minister himself who had announced, over the years, the planned creation of an anti-corruption law.
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