jeudi, octobre 12, 2006

Cambodia as Yash Ghai see it


Phnom Penh Post
October 6-19, 2006


The government says Cambo­dia’s Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Yash Ghai’s recent report is inaccurate. His assessment, they say, is warped by his hatred of Cambodia. How accurate is Ghai’s assessment? Cat Barton asked key figures in local and international civil society for their comments on assertions in the controversial report.

· “Human rights continued to be violated on a systemic scale [in Cambodia] because the de­liberate rejection of the concept of a state governed by the rule of law had been central to the rul­ing party's hold on power.” - ­Yash Ghai
Basil Fernando, Director, Asian Human Rights Foundation: Ab­solutely. There has been no attempt at all to begin a govern­ment on the basis of rule of law and there have been very deliberate attempts [by the] people in power to keep power for their own benefits. When a govern­ment sabotages the development of the rule of law through vio­lence and suppression, how can you say anything other than that this is a deliberate attempt not to come to the path of the rule of law?
Kek Galabru, President Licadho: Yes, it is not a lack of awareness. The political platform of the Cam­bodian government is an excel­lent political platform; if you read it you would think that Cambo­dia had no more problems. But there is no political will to imple­ment it. What do I mean by a lack of political will? The same thing Yash Ghai said: there has been a deliberate rejection of these prin­ciples. They use the law for their own purposes.

· “The Cambodian Constitution has been massively disregarded and its safeguards weakened.” - Ghai
T'heary Sing, Director, Centre for Social Development (CSV) :
In Cambodia the government is very practiced in giving lip service but has yet to convince civil society and the Cambodian people that it is serious in respecting and implementing the basic principles of democracy, especially in hold­ing supreme the Constitution over personality.
Fernando: It is not that they are disregarded, there are none at all. It remains the law of the jungle, and it has not moved one step forward, not a single step for­ward, since 1993 - it has moved many steps backwards in fact. The test of a constitution is that it cre­ates a legitimate place to voice complaints and have them heard in a reasonable way - that is mini­mum and even that does not ex­ist in Cambodia.

· “There is a pattern to the cur­rent enforcement of the law in Cambodia which suggests that the law is abused for political purposes.” - Ghai
Galabru: Why adopt the recent Law on the Statute of Parliamen­tarians? This law will be used to silence opposition. They manipu­late laws to silence their critics.
Fernando: This is a style of rule ­where you use the law only to the extent that the powerful can con­tinue to assert their power. If any­one talks too much you say there is a law of defamation and arrest them. There is a complete abuse of the process of arrest, detention and fair trial. If you wish to have someone in jail then you have them arrested; if you work out a political compromise then you release them. This is a rudimen­tary system of governance - ab­solute power is used ruthlessly.
Seng : It is an open secret that the law has been used selectively by the powers-that-be; every Cam­bodian knows and fears this. In this regard, I am reminded of the quip, “For my friends, whatever they want. For my enemies, the law.”
Kem Sokha, President, Cambo­dian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) : In democratic countries the legislative body has a long term plan - what laws they want to pass and why. In Cambodia we have constant knee-jerk legis­lation. The government rushes through the legislation that they want to, they pass the laws they need - for ex ample to ensure they obtain membership to the WTO. Sometimes, if the international community puts pressure on them they will pass certain laws - but not if they don't see the benefit for themselves.

· “[The government's policies have] manipulated democratic processes, undermined legiti­mate political opposition, and used the state for the accumula­tion of private wealth.”- Ghai
Sokha: Some [members of the gov­ernment] use subdecrees to give state land to private companies. They use their power and author­ity to enrich themselves. But we must remember that some do not.
Fernando: The government has absolute power; corruption is thus automatic. Absolute power means corruption; it means you can do things for your benefit unlimited by law.
Galabru: Yes, look at all the land swaps - they build new police sta­tions and prisons cheaply outside town and then sell the city center land for millions of dollars.

· “The application of the crimi­nal defamation law to the speech made in parliament had reduced the status of the parliamentarians to ordinary citizens.”- Ghai
Sokha: This law was an initiative from the National Assembly itself - it was in their interests as many articles of the law gave them ben­efits and just one limited their free­dom of speech. They passed it be­cause they were thinking of their retirement benefits. MPs care too much for short term interests ­they forget about important inter­ests. Immunity not money should be the first benefit they think of ­- if the government arrests them and puts them in prison how will they spend their money then? What good will it do them?
Galabru: The National Assembly didn't have power before, but at least in theory they could talk. But now with this new article if they talk too much and they abuse the personal dignity of a minister they will have to stiffer the conse­quences. Up to this point it has been NGOs and civil society who were really at risk [due to the] shrinking of the space for expres­sion. Now who can really talk about these issues? Parliamentar­ians? Due to Article 5 [of the new law] they will have the same prob­lems as civil society - before the government had to lift their par­liamentary immunity to prosecute them, now they don't have to.
Seng: One of the fundamental prin­ciples of democracy is the inde­pendence and protection of the leg­islators to hold open and passion­ate debates in their course of their business. Fear of prosecution will certainly stifle ideas and diminish the quality of legislating.