Wednesday, 21 October 2009

'Talk doesn't cook rice' or protect rights

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth

October 21, 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

The Chinese say, "Talk doesn't cook rice"; the Africans, "When deeds speak, words are nothing"; and an Arab proverb says, "A promise is a cloud; fulfillment is rain."

There were a lot of words spoken and written 18 years ago today in Paris: Representatives of 19 governments, including that of Cambodia, adopted the "Agreement on a Comprehensive Political Settlement of the Cambodia Conflict," endowed with "special measures to assure protection of human rights, and the non-return to the policies and practices of the past."

Article 15 of the Agreement reads, "All persons in Cambodia ... shall enjoy the rights and freedoms embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant international human rights instruments."

"To this end," the article continues, "Cambodia undertakes to ensure respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cambodia ...," and the other 18 signatory governments "undertake to promote and encourage respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cambodia ... in order, in particular, to prevent the recurrence of human rights abuses."

In Article 17, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights is tasked with continued monitoring of the human rights situation in Cambodia, and "the appointment of a Special Rapporteur" to report his findings annually to the Commission and the General Assembly.

Two days later, on Oct 23, 1991, the participatory states adopted the "Final Act of the Paris Conference on Cambodia," and declared to "commit themselves to promote and encourage respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cambodia." The 1991 Paris Peace Accords promised Cambodia and her people high hopes for the future.

Today, 18 years after the Paris Accords were signed, Special Rapporteur, Surya Subedi, a Nepalese professor of international law at the University of Leeds, United Kingdom, submitted his report to the Human Rights Council, as required by the Council resolution 9/15, raising concerns over, among other issues, the need for a "balance between economic development and human rights protection"; the problem of a "disconnect" between "people's rights to own land ... (and) widespread land grabbing and alienation"; a "series of defamation and disinformation charges filed by or on behalf of the Government against members of opposition parties and other critics of public policies or practices."

Subedi writes that to allow this "disturbing trend ... to continue, could seriously undermine the exercise of the constitutional right to freedom of expression, which is essential to effective media freedom, pluralism, diversity and democratic debate."

Subedi's predecessor, Oxford and Harvard-educated Yash Ghai, professor of public law at the University of Hong Kong, appointed as U.N. Special Representative in September 2006, reported to the U.N. Human Rights Council his regret that Cambodians' "frequent response" to "concerns" by special representatives and U.N. bodies, "has been evasion or accusation, scapegoating and intimidation."

Ghai wrote of "the moral and legal responsibility of the international community and its members to support Cambodia in its quest to strengthen human rights and democratic and accountable institutions."

He recommended, "the international community, bound by obligations in the Paris peace agreements, should do all it can to persuade and press the (Cambodian) Government to respect its human rights commitments under the agreements, international human rights treaties and the Constitution of Cambodia."

"The (Cambodian) Government on its part must declare unequivocally to the international community and to the people of Cambodia its obligations, legal and moral, to stop the abuse of rights and to respect the independence of the judiciary and prosecutorial authorities."

Ghai was refused cooperation, personally insulted, and forced to resign in September 2008, after a bad relationship with the Hun Sen regime, which, by virtue of Article 15 of the Paris Accords, agreed to undertake "to ensure respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cambodia ..."

And, today, barely seven months after his appointment by the Council, Subedi, who reminded in his report that the human rights situation in Cambodia has been "the subject of extensive analysis" by four former special representatives, by treaty organs, and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, has, like his predecessor, become a subject of criticism of the ruling regime.

As quoted in the Phnom Penh Post, a lawmaker of Sen's Cambodian People's Party, accused Subedi of "bias" against the Sen government: "Based on my observations, Mr. Subedi is not different from Yash Ghai" -- a charge Subedi rejected.

Subedi's report concluded, "the promotion and protection of human rights in Cambodia depends on making real and substantial progress in strengthening the rule of law, creating a clearer separation of power between the three main branches of the Government, protecting the independence of the judiciary, including that of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (Khmer Rouge Tribunal), and addressing issues such as conflicts over land, impunity and control of corruption."

In the final analysis, the 1991 Paris Accords, and the Cambodian Constitution it established, remain words not applied, and intentions not fulfilled, by both Cambodia and the international community, at the expense of the Cambodian people.

As the first patriarch of the Chinese Zen, Bodhidharma, says, "All know the way; few actually walk it," and the French Renaissance writer Michel de Montaigne, "Saying is one thing, doing another."

"You may have a heart a gold -- but so does a hard-boiled egg," a saying goes.

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political science for 13 years. Write him at

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