Not Everything Legal is Considered Legitimate – Sunday, 20.6.2010

Posted on 22 June 2010. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 669 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 669

A Secretary of State of the Ministry of Health spoke against the economic exploitation from blood donations and blood infusions during an event at the occasion of the World Blood Donors’ Day. Did she say that the financial transactions related to blood donations and transfusions are illegal? No. They are legal. But she still considers these business aspect as “totally against the moral of medical professionalism, and such behavior must be avoided.”

We encounter here a situation where something that is legal is still being considered not to be legitimate. No law is violated, but still some people claim to have good reasons to say that it is not acceptable.

And the Secretary of State elaborated further about the consequences of such a discrepancy, when – from a moral perspective – a legal but illegitimate action leads to a loss of “trust from the general public” in medical institutions which are involved in such actions.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia, Mr. Subedi, is quoted to have made a similar remark. Speaking to journalists he said that several reasons: “the lack of resources, institutional problems, and the interference from outside of the court system have created institutions which are not trusted by citizens.”

He did not say that the law is violated – but still: the result is not trusted by many citizens.

Probably it can be said that many actions which caused the sufferings and the deaths of many people under the Khmer Rouge regime were implemented according to the law – the laws of that time – and still a basic feeling for justice considers them not to have been legitimate.

To question legality in the name of legitimacy is not without problems – but still it has to be raised in every society which is built on basic human values, such as the values stated in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia; nobody can avoid to face this dilemma.

As reported by Reuters, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia stated at the end of his third mission to Cambodia on 17 June 2010, that he was troubled by the land disputes and the apparent inability of the poor to get a fair hearing in court. And in a reference to the government’s tough stand on dissent, he expressed concern about what he called a narrowing of the political space for debate. He has the duty to report the results of this visit to the UN Human Rights Council, and he will do so in September 2010. Again: there was no statement claiming that laws are violated – but also a clear indication that he understands that there is doubt and lack of trust in the courts, and in the legitimacy of the results of court actions, felt and expressed by many people.

Facing this situation , the head of the government’s Cambodia Human Rights Commission is quoted to have said already that he expects that the assessment by the UN Special Rapporteur will not be correct, as he was in the country only for a short visit.

It is a general phenomenon that flawed or wrong information and opinion can best be countered and maybe corrected by open and transparent communication – but this may also lead to clarify that there are different, even opposing opinions.

The rapporteur, Mr. Surya Subedi, expressed also that he was disappointed that he could not meet the Prime Minister – a meeting had been scheduled only for the end of his 10-days visit, and the visit could not materialize because the Prime Minister was unwell.

In response, the Prime Minister criticized Mr. Subedi, considering it as a sign of disrespect that he said he was disappointed about the Prime Minister’s illness. “Every time he’s come here, I’ve met him,” Hun Sen said. “From now on, I’ll see him just once a year. I hope he will hear this: I’m ill, I don’t need to report to you,” Hun Sen added, accusing Subedi of wanting to “colonize” his country.

The necessary exchange of information and of opinion with Mr. Subedi, as the United Nations appointed Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia, will not become easier. When Cambodia was “colonized” like many other countries by European powers and by Japan were colonized, this was done with military threat or lethal force. It is not obvious why this service of the United Nations, agreed upon with the Royal Government of Cambodia, looking into the status of the human rights situation in Cambodia, considering the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia and the laws based on it, is an effort to colonize Cambodia.

If it were not that hundreds of people would demonstrate – often holding pictures of the Prime Minister and the First Lady whom they trust that they will help them to find justice – and thousands of people gave their thumb prints to raise their concerns, considering that they have been unjustly evicted – Mr. Subedi would not listen. He listened also to these people after meeting government representatives and members of the judiciary. And these people are among the ‘masters of their own country” according to Article 51 of the Constitution, and they have the right to struggle, with all other sections of society, that the application of the law is felt to be legitimate.

Where this social consensus is lost – like recently in large section of the Thai society – this can lead to serious problems.

Please recommend The Mirror also to your colleagues and friends.

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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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