Cambodia Section Home Mekong Network Home
Mekong.Net
About this site...

United Nations: Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights in Cambodia

[Part 3 of 4: Continues Section on "Issues of Special Concern"]

 

D. Rule of law, independence of the judiciary and administration of justice

77. The Special Representative welcomes the progress made to establish institutions called for by the Constitution and essential for the strengthening of the rule of law in Cambodia. The Supreme Council of Magistracy convened for the first time on 3 December 1997 and appointed during that meeting 42 new magistrates. Among its other tasks is to decide on disciplinary action against magistrates and appoint three members of the Constitutional Council. Its independence has been questioned by some of the political parties, as several of its members are formally affiliated with CPP. It is crucial for the credibility of the whole justice system that the Supreme Council demonstrates its genuine impartiality and that all political parties respect its integrity.

78. The Constitutional Council is the body designated by the Constitution to determine the constitutionality of legislation and to decide on election-related disputes. A draft law for this body is presently with the National Assembly. The Constitutional Council is urgently needed to review the constitutionality of legislation like the recently adopted laws on election and political parties. It will also be important for the review of appeals against decisions regarding registration of parties.

79. The need to protect the judiciary against direct or indirect political pressure has been raised by the Special Representative in previous reports. A suggestion that members of the judiciary would be prohibited from membership in parties was not included in the law on political parties. The problem remains and some magistrates have told the Special Representative that they would be prepared to renounce their party affiliation if requested to do so by law or the Supreme Council of Magistracy. The Special Representative recommends further discussions on this issue in order to sever the links between judges and political parties.

80. The Ministry of Justice has established international cooperation for the training and developing of the capacities of the court personnel. Through the Judicial Mentor Programme of the Cambodia office, prosecutors, clerks, police, prison authorities, military police and local officials receive training and advice about human rights, domestic law and the role of the judiciary. The Special Representative encourages continued donor support for these valuable long-term programmes of institution-building, as well as for the physical reconstruction of Cambodia's dilapidated court buildings.

81. In his comments of 11 November 1997 on the General Assembly report the Minister of Justice referred to the low salaries of the court staff. This is a major concern since it also tends to lead to some level of corruption. The public perception is that corruption is widespread within the courts. Higher salaries would partially address that concern. Therefore the Special Representative urges the Royal Government to increase the budget allocation for all court staff and court operations. If the judiciary is to assume its constitutional role, the magistrates ought to be paid at a level similar to the salaries of the National Assembly members and Royal Government ministers.

82. Interference by local authorities in judicial matters is a matter of concern to the Special Representative The First Deputy Governor of one province summoned court staff in early January 1998 and organized them as a branch of the CPP. The court was also instructed to delay the hearing and resolution of any cases filed by persons in opposition to the Government or which involve complaints against the Government, until the elections are over

83. The Special Representative commends the prompt action by the Minister of Justice to ensure the punishment of perpetrators in the case of the ill treatment by the gendarmerie of judge Son Neatheavy in Pursat Court in late October 1997. The judge was verbally abused, beaten and pushed to the ground and then had bullets shot around his body, one of which hit his shoe. A special prosecutor sent by the Ministry of Justice and an investigating judge have been working on the case, in spite of obstruction by the local gendarmerie.

84. The Special Representative has been informed about frequent instances of lack of respect for basic procedures of arrest and detention. The majority of the cases handled by Legal Aid of Cambodia and the Cambodian Defenders Project concern cases of illegal detention. Cambodian law does not allow arrests without a warrant except for clearly defined situations, but this requirement is very often violated. It happens that the prosecutor, upon the request of the police and in order to comply with the legal requirements, delivers an arrest warrant after the arrest has taken place, in some cases days after the suspect has been taken into police custody. The Special Representative urges the Government to instruct all law enforcement officials to strictly abide by the legal requirements of the procedures for arrest.

85. According to the law, no one may be detained for more than 48 hours without being brought before a judge following charges filed by a prosecutor. The Special Representative has been informed that this period is often exceeded, especially in the case of women detainees. The Special Representative has noted in his previous reports that most cases of torture occur in police custody and urges the Government to instruct the police not to exceed the limits of detention in police custody foreseen by law.

86. Cambodian law limits the pre-trial detention period to four months which may be extended to six months if justified by the requirements of the investigation. The Special Representative acknowledges that considerable improvements have been made in this area, but is still concerned about the many cases of excessive periods of pre-trial detention brought to his attention. In fact, in a majority of cases the pre-trial detention is longer than four months. As often no investigation is undertaken during that period, the detention is prolonged in many cases for two or more months. Pre-trial detention for as long as one full year is not uncommon.

87. Another problem relates to the pre-trial detention of minors between 13 and 18 years of age. The length of their detention should not be longer than one month and another month if the minor is charged with a crime. The Special Representative was, however, informed that excessive pre-trial detention periods for minors are very common. Cases of minors less than 13 years of age, who should not be placed in pre-trial detention, were also brought to the attention of the Special Representative. In Kompong Cham two young children, aged 9 and 10, were arrested in September 1997 on a charge of theft, and spent some 10 days in prison.

88. The Special Representative is also concerned about the number of persons imprisoned for debt for lengthy periods of time. One example was a woman who was sentenced to eight months' imprisonment for fraud in June 1997 by the Siem Reap Provincial Court; she was further sentenced to an additional period of 12 years' imprisonment for accumulated payment of damages to various complainants. Such compensation to victims should instead be recovered through a civil procedure.

89. A couple of recent court cases have attracted particular attention. One relates to the preparation of a case against H.R.H. Prince Norodom Ranariddh. At the time of writing this report, no trial had started. The fact that government leaders since early July 1997 have made public statements about the guilt of Prince Ranariddh does raise very basic questions about whether a fair trial is possible.

90. Another politically charged case relates to the September 1997 trial against three persons accused of the murder of Keo Samouth, a relative of the Second Prime Minister. Srun Vong Vannak, security chief of the Khmer Nation Party, and his two co-defendants were sentenced at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court after a trial which fell short of elementary procedural requirements for fairness. Basic procedures had also been violated during arrest and interrogation. During the trial itself Srun Vong Vannak withdrew a confession he said had been made under coercion and threat. All three co-defendants have lodged an appeal to the Appeals Court. In the meanwhile the parents of Srun Vong Vannak have made a request for amnesty and the Second Prime Minister has suggested that this be granted for all the co-defendants. A final decision will probably not be taken before the case goes to the Appeals Court.

91. There have also been further developments in the case of Chau Sokhon, the FUNCINPEC deputy chief of the Sihanoukville military police, who was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment in June 1997 and to another 3 years in September on charges of drug trafficking. On appeal the Appeals Court overturned the sentences, but the Prosecutor General, in turn, lodged a complaint to the Supreme Court. In the meanwhile the three judges of the Appeals Court who had handled the case were suspended. The Special Representative is presently studying the facts.

E. Protection against torture

92. During his sixth and seventh missions to Cambodia, the Special Representative again raised the issue of torture. Torture is prohibited under the Cambodian Constitution and Criminal Law. Article 38 of the Constitution provides that the law guarantees that there shall be no physical abuse against any individual and that coercion, physical ill-treatment or any other mistreatment that imposes additional punishment on a detainee or prisoner shall be prohibited. The article further provides that confessions extracted under torture are not admissible as proof of guilt, and holds the perpetrator of torture punishable under the law. The same prohibition exists in the Cambodian Criminal Law (article 12). Cambodia is also a party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. However, there is evidence that torture during interrogation remains widespread in Cambodia.

93. The Special Representative submitted on 16 June 1997 a document to the Royal Government and to the provincial authorities in Battambang describing 32 cases of alleged torture by police interrogators in that province, most of which occurred in the single police station of Svay Por. The document had been prepared at the invitation of the Director of the National Police, after initial reports on torture in that province had been brought to his attention earlier in the year by the Special Representative. When the document was submitted the Special Representative was promised a reply by the end of August 1997. At a meeting on 4 December 1997, Gen. Hok Lundi stated that no action had taken place yet to investigate the allegations due to the July events. He gave his personal guarantee that the Criminal Investigation Department would be assigned to look into them, and in particular into the allegation that one detainee was beaten to death. He stressed that if the allegation could be substantiated, the responsible police officers would be punished.

94. The Minister of Justice in his 11 November 1997 comment on the General Assembly report stated that his Ministry had paid high attention to this matter and that a workshop had been organized with the participation of relevant officials and NGO representatives. He had asked the prosecutor in Battambang to investigate the case of one detainee who, according to witnesses, had been tortured and was later found dead in a cell. The prosecutor, however, had not been able to establish sufficient evidence to prosecute the offender. In the same comment the Minister referred to another case, in Kampong Cham, of a detainee who died under torture - in this case the torturer had indeed been punished.

95. Since the submission of the torture cases in Battambang, the Cambodia office has received credible information showing that detainees continue to be tortured in Svay Por and other police stations in the province, including the provincial police headquarters. A follow-up report on these and other findings relating to torture will be prepared for submission to the Royal Government. The Special Representative has also received information about illegal interrogation methods in Koh Kong and raised this issue with the Provincial Police Commissioner during a visit to the province in January 1998.

F. Prison conditions

96. One major problem for the prisons throughout Cambodia is the late arrival of funds intended for feeding prisoners. Delays of two to three months in the allocation of funds are common, which forces prison directors to borrow money. When the funds arrive from the Government, the already minimal allocation for food is further diminished by the high interest to be paid on the borrowed money. The result has been malnutrition in several prisons. This is serious; people sentenced to imprisonment should not be punished with enforced starvation. A government which cannot feed its prisoners has no right to keep them locked up.

97. The Special Representative suggested in March 1997 an administrative reform simplifying and expediting the procedure for allocation of food rations to the prisons. At that time, he was informed that a new system of multiple month allocations would be implemented to solve the problem.

98. In June 1997 the Special Representative addressed prison conditions in a letter to the Government, including the continued problem of delayed payments to the prisons. In a response dated 13 October 1997 the Ministry of Interior acknowledged the delays, and stated that the Ministries of Economy and Finance and the Ministry of Interior were making great efforts to simplify the accounting procedures. The Ministry of Interior considered that some progress had been made and hoped for the timely arrival of the funds in future. The impact of these efforts was, however, not immediate. As of January 1998, the crisis caused by the delayed payments continued in Pursat, Banteay Meanchey, Prey Veng, Kompong Som, Kompong Cham Provincial Prison and T5, Kompong Chhnang, Kampong Thom, Kampot, Kandal, Battambang, and Siem Reap.

99. In another letter addressed to the Special Representative dated 5 December 1997, Deputy Prime Minister and co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng suggested that reporting on the chronic food shortages and unfortunate effects resulting therefrom be matched with offers of assistance. The co-Minister asked the Special Representative to help identify possible sources of assistance to the prisons. The Cambodia office had contacted the World Food Programme and asked it to provide emergency feeding whenever a food crisis occurred. A Framework Agreement to that effect was signed between WFP, the Cambodia office and the non-governmental organization the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (LICADHO). The Agreement expired at the end of December 1997 and the Special Representative has since received alarming reports of acute food shortages. The Cambodia office will seek to obtain a renewal of the Agreement with WFP, temporarily and on humanitarian grounds. At the same time the Special Representative urges the Government to seek ways of taking full responsibility for feeding its own prisoners. Such basic expenditures should not depend on outside generosity, which is a reason why United Nations agencies as a matter of policy seek to avoid such involvement.

100. The food problem has led to medical problems among prisoners. The Special Representative notes, however, that an effort has been made to improve medical care in prisons. The Ministry of Health has instructed the provincial hospitals to conduct prison visits, and the Minister of Justice has instructed the prosecutors to take action if medical care is not given to needy prisoners. Provincial hospitals in several provinces are now actively involved in providing medical assistance to prisoners. The Special Representative also welcomes the advice given to prosecutors by the Ministry of Justice to grant conditional release to six HIV-positive prisoners.

101. The Special Representative received reports that a group of prisoners in Kampong Cham prison, who had attempted an escape, were shackled for several days and nights in October 1997. Three cases of shackling in Sihanoukville prison were also reported to the Special Representative. One case concerned a 12 year-old minor who, according to the report, was handcuffed 24 hours a day from 16 to 25 October 1997 on the grounds that he was a troublemaker and had stolen a cigarette. Thereafter he had been handcuffed 17 hours a day for another 11 days. There have also been two cases in Sihanoukville prison concerning two detainees who were ankle-shackled for more than a month during October/November 1997 on the grounds that they were dangerous and that security conditions were insufficient. The Special Representative is concerned about these reports indicating that such methods, previously abandoned, may be reintroduced in prisons.

102. The Special Representative notes that there is still no law regulating the operations of Cambodia's prisons. The Cambodia office has worked with the Ministry of Interior on draft regulations for more than three years, and the Australian Criminal Justice Assistance Project was involved as of May 1997 in drafting new regulations, which were finalized in late November 1997. These regulations are being reviewed by the Government. The Special Representative emphasizes the importance and urgency of adopting such regulations, which would set basic standards for food, health care, discipline and prison administration, and on the basis of which prison procedures can be worked out.

103. The Special Representative regrets that the Cambodia office has not yet been granted access to all detention places in Cambodia, with a view to communicating freely and confidentially with all prisoners and detainees. This is in spite of a promise to the Special Representative by the Second Prime Minister that such unhindered access would be granted. In fact, access to detainees held at the PJ and T3 prisons in Phnom Penh has proved particularly difficult, and has been denied in several cases. While authorization from the Ministry of Interior to communicate freely and confidentially with individual detainees has been forthcoming, the Ministry of Justice is still instructing prison directors to deny access to human rights organizations unless they obtain a specific authorization from the prosecutor handling the case.

104. The visiting of prisons and places of detention is an important dimension of the work of the Cambodia office. It is essential that they be able to interview prisoners and detainees in privacy. The Special Representative recommends that relevant officials be instructed to facilitate the visits of United Nations staff of the Cambodia office as well as of representatives of the non-governmental human rights organizations, such as LICADHO and legal aid groups.

G. Labour rights

105. Low labour costs and preferential treatment of exports to the United States of America and the European Union make Cambodia attractive for foreign investment. The main private investments in Cambodia are in garment factories, wood processing, agro-and food industries, construction work, hotels and tourism. During the military clashes of early July 1997, a number of factories in Phnom Penh were damaged and looted and nearly all activities disrupted. However, most factories started again soon, after the Government actively negotiated the swift return of investors. Assurances were given that workers would not create trouble that could jeopardize investments. The number of factories, particularly garment factories, is now larger than before.

106. Since January 1997, employers had agreed with unions in several collective bargaining agreements to improve labour conditions, including the establishment of a minimum wage of US$ 40 per month. After July 1997, however, the situation worsened again in most factories, often returning to pre-agreement conditions. Workers were suspended and wages were not paid. In several factories armed soldiers were observed guarding the workers, workers were dismissed, and some had to pay bribes in order to get their old jobs back. Labour unions were intimidated, and their leaders dismissed or threatened with dismissal if they continued their union activities. Several union leaders went into hiding and a few of them went abroad, fearing for their security. It was not until November 1997 that the labour movement slowly started up again. The Special Representative has recommended that the Government recognize all eligible labour unions that fulfil the legal requirements. However, several qualifying trade unions have still not been registered, such as the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, the Workers Union for Economic Development, the Free Democratic Workers Union, the Independent Free Worker Union, the Union of Social Economic Development and the Ladies Garment Workers Union.

107. In general, working conditions are still poor. Salaries are low and working hours remain exceedingly long, often forcing workers to work to exhaustion, with little or no extra pay for overtime hours or work on official rest days or holidays. Few of the factories allow workers to take annual leave, though a minimum of 18 days' vacation is prescribed by the Labour Code. Sick leave and holidays, when taken, are most often deducted from the salary. Social security is still totally lacking in Cambodia. When there is no work available, workers are not paid. Night work is still commonly imposed and no security measures are taken to protect workers, particularly young women, on their often long and risky way home. Beatings, verbal abuse and other degrading treatment are often reported. Internal disciplinary rules, unilaterally drawn up by employers, undermine the protective provisions in the Labour Code.

108. According to surveys of the Cambodian Labour Organization of October and December 1997, workers pay a fee in order to secure a job, equivalent to several months' salary. Most workers have no copy of the contract they have signed. Unlimited periods of probation are sometimes imposed. The same surveys showed that 42 per cent of those dismissed never received any explanation of why they lost their jobs. Men, who form a minority in the industrial work force, are paid more than women for the same work, the assumption being that they produce more.

109. Also according to the surveys, only 12 per cent of workers worked less than 52 hours a week, 58 per cent worked 52 to 84 hours, and 30 per cent worked 84 to 94 hours per week; 62 per cent of all workers worked 7 days per week. The law prescribes a 48-hour work week. Health problems are rampant, and conditions are particularly unsafe in construction, chemical and wood-processing industries. The number of work-related accidents is high. Conditions are also severe in rubber plantations, where in many cases whole families, including young children, work together in order to survive. In one rubber plantation violent demonstrations in October 1997 led to grave damages for the company.

110. The Kandal Provincial Court in an important test case on 2 January 1998 ordered the Supreme garment factory to reinstate and pay damages to a former female worker, who had been dismissed in June 1997 for participating in trade union activities. Other complaints have never resulted in court rulings, as the cost of legal proceedings is prohibitive for most workers.

111. Employers violating the Labour Code have claimed not to have been informed of its provisions. The Special Representative recommends that the Labour Ministry make renewed efforts to disseminate copies of the Labour Code, as well as clear and accurate information about labour rights and collective bargaining, to employers and employees.

H. Women's rights

112. Cambodian women play an important role in the social, cultural and economic life of the country, particularly in the rural areas. As a result of decades of war and social disturbance, it is estimated that over a quarter of Cambodian families are headed by women, who bear the sole responsibility for supporting their families.

113. The Constitution of Cambodia protects women against all forms of discrimination and prohibits the exploitation of women in employment and exploitation of women by prostitution (arts. 45, 46). The Constitution states that 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 (art. 31). Cambodia is a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and has the obligation to eliminate discrimination against women in order to ensure they enjoy all economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights equally with men.

114. Despite the existence of legal protection as provided for by the Constitution and the international human rights treaties to which Cambodia is a party, women in Cambodia often live with discrimination and violence which negatively affect their educational, social, economic and political life. Women are not encouraged to participate

in the political and public life of the country, which is dominated by men. Educational opportunities diminish for many girls as they grow up. Women are victims of widespread domestic violence. Women workers often face insults and humiliations, for instance, by being body searched in the factories where they work. Large numbers of women are sold or trafficked for prostitution. The lack of access to public health facilities takes a particularly heavy toll on the reproductive health of women.

115. Cambodian women are not given an active and direct role in decision-making affecting the political and public life of the country. The Council of Ministers does not include a woman. The Ministry of Women's Affairs is headed by a man. Only 7 of the 120 members of Parliament are women. Of the 22 provinces in Cambodia, there is 1 woman deputy governor and no woman governor. Of a total of 175 district chiefs, 2 are women. Of a total of 1,558 commune chiefs, 10 are women. In the area of the administration of justice, there is also a striking disparity between the number of women and men officials.

116. The Special Representative reminds the Government of its responsibility, as a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country. In particular, the Government shall ensure that women have the right to participate in the formulation of government policy and the implementation thereof and to hold public office and perform all public functions at all levels of government (art. 7).

117. The key to the empowerment of women is education. In fact, available statistics indicate that girls have a lower repetition rate at schools and that their education, particularly at post-primary levels, has higher returns. However, when resources are scarce, opportunities for continuing education are often reserved for boys, while girls are kept at home to care for siblings or work. This explains why girls have higher drop-out and lower enrolment rates, especially in secondary and tertiary education. The disparity between men and women in adult literacy is important, with only 50.9 per cent of females being literate, compared with 85.1 per cent of males, according to recent national surveys. Education is essential for the realization of women's rights and the Special Representative recommends that the Government take the necessary steps to protect and reinforce the right to quality education at all levels and to ensure equality in education for all citizens, as stipulated in the Constitution. The Special Representative also recommends that opportunities for professional and personal advancement through, for instance, training programmes include women.

118. The Constitution states that the law guarantees there shall be no physical abuse against any individual. The law shall protect the life, honour and dignity of the citizens (art. 38). Despite this legal provision, much remains to be done to combat violence against women in all its forms, from widespread domestic violence to growing prostitution and abduction, trafficking in women and children, and rape.

119. The Special Representative notes the important joint effort of the Ministry of Women's Affairs and the NGO Project Against Domestic Violence to conduct a first-ever statistical study in Cambodia on the prevalence of domestic violence in 1996. According to the study, one in every six women is physically abused by their spouse and half of the cases of abuse cause injuries. The Special Representative is encouraged to note that a draft law on domestic violence has been prepared with the involvement of the Ministry of Women's Affairs, the Cambodia office and NGOs, and recommends that it be submitted to the National Assembly for adoption without delay. He also recommends educational efforts with a view to changing the common perception that domestic violence is solely a family matter and should only be dealt with within the family. Particular emphasis should be put on the issue of domestic violence in the human rights training for the police. Several non-governmental groups, such as the Cambodia Women's Crisis Centre visited by the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Representative in January 1998, play an important role in providing services to women victims of domestic violence and in educating the public. The Special Representative calls for continued support to these groups.

120. Rape remains a widely unpunished crime; few rape cases are brought to court at all, and when they are, convictions are rare. Out-of-court negotiations and settlements are common; very often a financial arrangement is reached, or the rapist may agree to marry his victim. There have also been reports of marital rape. The Special Representative recommends that special attention be given to this form of violence against women within the framework of the law.

121. Prostitution has been on the rise in recent years. It is estimated that there are 15,000 prostitutes in Phnom Penh alone. Many of the prostitutes are trafficked to brothels through networks which reach the villages, exploiting the situation of poverty. An alarmingly large proportion of prostitutes have been infected by HIV/AIDS. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women requests States parties to take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women. The Special Representative notes that Cambodia has adopted a law on the suppression of kidnapping, trafficking, sale and exploitation of human beings and recommends more effective implementation of the law.

122. The Special Representative reminds the Government that it is required by the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and, in accordance with national legislation, punish acts of violence against women, whether those acts are perpetrated by the State or by private actors.

123. Access to health services is a problem in Cambodia, with one fifth of the population having an operational health facility in the village of residence and another fifth having to travel more than five kilometres to reach the nearest health facility. Cambodia has one of the highest fertility and infant mortality rates in the region. Cambodia also has a high maternal mortality rate and a low rate of contraception use. Without access to and means for health facilities, women, particularly in rural areas, often turn to unsafe methods for birth deliveries and for abortions with risks of health complications.

124. The Special Representative notes the constitutional responsibility of the Government for the care of children and mothers and to establish nurseries and help support women and children who have inadequate support (art. 73). The Government also has the obligation under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, to ensure to women appropriate services in connection with pregnancy, confinement and the post-natal period, granting free services where necessary, as well as adequate nutrition during pregnancy and lactation (art. 12); to ensure access to specific educational information to help to ensure the health and well-being of families, including information and advice on family planning (art. 10); and to ensure the protection of health and to safety in working conditions, including the safeguarding of the function of reproduction (art. 11).

I. Rights of the child

125. Approximately 30 per cent of the estimated 15,000 prostitutes in Phnom Penh are minors. The real number may be higher as prostitution occurs in other places than brothels, such as nightclubs, massage parlours and karioke bars. The young victims have been trafficked or lured into prostitution because of poverty. Most of them come from rural areas of Cambodia, others come from Viet Nam. NGO workers have reported that young Vietnamese prostitutes have been repatriated back to their families in Viet Nam, suggesting that there are active trafficking networks from Viet Nam into Cambodia.

126. In one province bordering Thailand, a staff member of the Cambodia office and the staff of a local human rights group witnessed an offer to sell a young girl of about 14-15 years old, for a period of one week, to a government official for 10,000 bahts (about US$ 200 at the current rate). The girl was being sold by her mother through an intermediary in a popular restaurant. Attempts to protect the girl failed. In the same province, large-scale prostitution of young women, among them children, took place in a newly built hotel owned by a high-ranking government official. Most of the clients were soldiers. The Special Representative has received a great number of similar reports indicating that child prostitution is tolerated by some officials.

127. The Municipality of Phnom Penh organized a crackdown on brothels in November 1997 in various districts of the city. More than 100 child prostitutes were taken away from the brothels and placed in shelters run by NGOs. Some brothel owners were detained, at least temporarily. Further raids followed. As of January 1998, according to NGO sources and the Municipality 317 prostitutes had been freed in Phnom Penh, 107 of whom were under 18 years old. Some 30 brothel owners were arrested and 3 of them have been sentenced. There was a similar crackdown in Battambang province in mid-January which resulted in the release of 67 prostitutes who were referred to local NGOs. By the end of January, only a few women remained with the NGOs.

128. The Special Representative welcomes the commitment of the Cambodian authorities to tackle the problem of prostitution and sex trafficking, as well as the cooperation between NGOs and the authorities. However, a negative trend is that prostitution is now going underground, making it more difficult to investigate abuses and reach out with programmes for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. The Special Representative remains alarmed by the high rate of HIV/AIDS among prostitutes. It is estimated that almost half of them are HIV positive. This concern was shared by the Deputy Mayor of Phnom Penh, during his meeting with the Special Representative in January. NGOs reported that the brothels are reopening as massage and karioke bars. They also raised concerns that some released victims were taken back by the brothel owners, therefore possibly aggravating the dependency of the victims on the brothel owners.

129. The Special Representative also conveyed to the Deputy Mayor his concern about reports of police abuses during the raids, and reported threats and harassment of NGO staff working at the shelters. As most of the brothel owners are armed and some have police or military protection, there is a need for action by the authorities to protect NGO staff and girls who have been freed. The Municipality acknowledged these problems and promised to continue to take appropriate action. The issue of police behaviour during the raids raised again the need for a better trained police force to deal with problems relating to trafficking and prostitution of children and women. The Special Representative recommends that further assistance be provided to NGOs. Important programmes are run by the Cambodian Women's Crisis Centre (CWCC), the Cambodian Centre for the Protection of Children's Rights (CCPCR), Action pour les femmes en situation precaire (AFESIP) and Sok Sabay. An NGO Action Committee on Child Exploitation has been established to coordinate investigation of and provide services to victims of sexual exploitation.

130. Important work is also being done by NGOs for the improvement of children's and women's health, in particular in relation to HIV/AIDS. Appropriate shelters or centres should be created to assist victims of HIV/AIDS and to help prevent discrimination against them. The Special Representative recommends that more coordinated action and cooperation be put in place among United Nations agencies and international organizations. For this purpose, the Special Representative has requested that international organizations, including UNICEF, UNDP, WHO, ILO, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Cambodia office, coordinate their efforts to help the Cambodian authorities and NGOs to combat sex trafficking, prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and assist victims.

131. The Special Representative also recommends better implementation of the law on the suppression of the kidnapping, trafficking, sale and exploitation of human beings, and that major traffickers and brothel owners be arrested, prosecuted and punished. Public officials found to have taken bribes for the release of the suspected traffickers or pimps should be punished.

132. Child labour remains a problem. It is estimated that there are more than half a million child workers in Cambodia. Children are exploited as construction and factory workers, domestic servants, fish processors or street vendors. The Special Representative recommends again that Government authorities, NGOs and United Nations agencies put in place a coordinated programme so as to identify priorities and measures to end the most intolerable forms of child labour.

133. Children driven into the streets of the major cities end up begging, stealing, or are trapped into prostitution and subjected to physical abuse and disease. It is estimated by NGOs that there are more than 10,000 street children in Phnom Penh alone, the majority of whom come from the provinces. The Special Representative encourages more preventive efforts at the provincial level but also stresses the need for awareness programmes in order to reduce child exploitation, ideally with participation of children themselves. The Global March on Child Labour which passed through Cambodia in early February 1998 was a useful reminder of the urgency of this problem.

134. Another form of child exploitation is the recruitment of children as soldiers. Cambodia is a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child which obliges States parties to take all feasible measures to ensure that persons who have not attained the age of 15 years do not take a direct part in hostilities. The 1997 law on general statutes for the military personnel of the Royal Cambodian armed forces stipulates that military personnel must be at least 18 to be appointed. However, minors are recruited as soldiers and to carry war material or provide other services for the military. No statistics are available, but the Cambodia office, NGOs and journalists have come across numerous cases. Since the fighting in July 1997 and the subsequent organization of resistance forces in areas bordering Thailand, it appears that the number of child soldiers has increased in both warring factions. Child soldiers have been taken to the front lines, risking their lives like other soldiers and exposing themselves to shooting, shelling, landmines and malaria. On 21 July 1997, an Australian defence attache reported in an interview with a local newspaper that he had interviewed 17 young CPP soldiers at Siem Reap military hospital, and said that the number of boy soldiers was alarming. He visited only CPP units, but stated that resistance units also used child soldiers. NGO workers also saw several child soldiers in Siem Reap and Bantey Meanchey provinces during July and August 1997. They were able to interview some of them in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh hospitals in August 1997. Child soldiers are mostly from very poor families or are orphans. They enter the army either voluntarily to get food, accommodation and to earn some money for their family, or may have been drafted by force.

135. The Special Representative expresses grave concern about reports by human rights workers and soldiers in December 1997 of alleged forced conscription of boys as young as 8 or 10 forced to join the army during raids on villages in Oddar Meanchey province by government forces who demanded payment from parents in return for an exemption from the unofficial draft. The Special Representative encourages public authorities and national as well as international organizations to give more attention to the problem of child soldiers and contribute to their demobilization and rehabilitation into normal life.

136. The Special Representative met children during his visits to Cambodian prisons, some as young as 14. Currently, there are no separate detention centres for convicted juveniles. The Youth Rehabilitation Centre outside Phnom Penh detains a mixture of street children, child victims of trafficking and prostitution, and unconvicted delinquent juveniles. The Special Representative was informed that the Ministry of Justice has provided lists of convicted children to the Youth Rehabilitation Centre. However, in view of the poor living conditions in the Centre, as reported by the Legal Aid of Cambodia and a Cambodia office team that visited in September 1997, no minor should be transferred to the Centre before clear improvements are made. The Special Representative has also been informed that children under 13 are held in pre-trial detention, which is in violation of the law. Likewise, it has been reported that the pre-trial detention of minors who are 13 and older in a number of cases has been longer than the legal maximum of two months.

137. The Special Representative recommends a thorough review of the Government's policy towards juvenile justice. Non-custodial alternatives should be developed. For minors who are deprived of their liberty, arrangements should be made to enable relatives to visit. Young prisoners should be separated from adults and be given special attention and a chance at an education. The living conditions in the Youth Rehabilitation Centre need upgrading and rehabilitation programmes should be developed for convicted juveniles.

J. Trafficking in human beings

138. The Special Representative has received reports of large-scale trafficking of human beings in the south-western province of Koh Kong. Organized networks were discovered operating from Dang Tung and Bak Klang in the province; they were selling young men to work in Thailand under slavery-like conditions. In mid-December 1997, the Cambodia Office and LICADHO were informed of the existence in Koh Kong of up to 100 young men and boys awaiting transportation to Thailand. The allegations were investigated; interviews with local people and victims of trafficking who had returned from Thailand confirmed the allegations and made clear that this trade had been in operation for at least two years. Many people in the area knew about the trafficking and other victims, including children, had been found. It was reported that some policemen were directly involved.

139. At the time of discovery of the network, it was estimated that hundreds of people were being trafficked to Thailand every month. The victims were usually young men in their teens or twenties, desperate, mostly illiterate, and vulnerable to the lure of promised employment over the border because of the pressure of poverty. The young men and boys found in Koh Kong come from various provinces in Cambodia, and had for the most part been approached by traffickers in their home villages.

140. The traffickers exploit the ignorance and poverty of their victims to persuade them to go. Some village boys are encouraged by their own families, and awareness of the prospects in such circumstances seems to be low in many areas of the country. One village chief told the staff of the Cambodia office that he had tried to warn his fellow villagers not to respond to such offers of work, but with little success. The traffickers usually take their victims from the villages to Srae Ambel or Sihanoukville from where they take the boat to Koh Kong. On arrival they take their money away from them. Traffickers usually sell the victims to Thai recruiters for around 1,000 - 4,000 baht (about $20 - 80), depending on the strength and physical condition of the individual. Often victims cannot be sold immediately, in which case they are compelled to remain in Koh Kong and find work to survive, often physical labour for the traffickers in conditions of semi-slavery.

141. Those who are taken to Thailand cross the border on a temporary pass which allows them a 24-hour visit. Some of the victims interviewed said they had worked clandestinely in Thailand, mostly in fisheries and logging. Others had been arrested by the Thai police after having worked for a while or right after they crossed the border. They had been taken to a detention centre, then to the tribunal in Trat province which had fined them and, as they had no money, condemned them to imprisonment. At the time of the interviews, it was reported that more than 150 Cambodians were being held in Trat prison and 60 others in smaller detention centres.

142. Many of those who have returned gave accounts of harsh working conditions. The workers are paid very little - the equivalent of $10 per month or less - and are compelled to work long hours. In some cases the Cambodian workers had been arrested before getting any pay at all and had later been unable to recover the money. Several returnees said that they had been drugged with yama or amphetamines put, without their knowledge, in drinking water or food, which temporarily increases the capacity for work but tends to be addictive.

143. When in Koh Kong in January 1998 the Special Representative met the Governor, H.E. Rong Plamkesan, and the Provincial Police Commissioner and received assurances that the main traffickers would be arrested and prosecuted. The Police Commissioner recognized that some policemen had indeed been involved in the trafficking. He had sent the names of four ringleaders to the Ministry of Interior. The Special Representative was told that the main culprits had fled to Thailand in order to avoid arrest. Further interviews, however, indicated that some of those responsible might still be in the province. The Special Representative discussed this issue with H.E.You Hokry, one of the co-Ministers of Interior, who pledged further vigilance on the part of the Government. The Special Representative welcomes this determination and recommends that the Royal Government seek further international cooperation, with Thai authorities and international organizations, in order to put an end to the trafficking in human beings.

K. Ethnic minorities

144. The Special Representative has expressed concern about the situation of the ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia. They are attacked verbally by the Khmer Rouge and others in an attempt to gain popular support. This type of xenophobic demagogy is damaging and potentially dangerous. On 7 January 1997, an explosive device was found near an area frequently visited by ethnic Vietnamese and near the home of a military attache of the Vietnamese Embassy. Fortunately, the device could be disarmed.

145. Ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia who have advocated more freedom in Vie Nam also appear to have been under scrutiny by Cambodian authorities. On 18 November 1997, the President of Hoi Dong Phuc Vu Quoc Dan Viet Nam (Committee for the Service of Vietnamese People), which advocates peaceful means to achieve more freedom in Viet Nam, was deported to Viet Nam where he was imprisoned. The circumstances of his deportation were questionable, especially in view of the existence of documents recognizing him to be a Cambodian national. The Kingdom of Cambodia is a signatory to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees which prohibits the deportation of any individual who may face political persecution

146. The Special Representative recognize the importance of a climate of tolerance for all ethnicities in the Kingdom and urges the Cambodian authorities to respect and protect the rights of ethnic Vietnamese. He also appeals to all political parties to avoid propaganda which may incite hatred against any minority.

147. Indigenous peoples, also referred to as Highland Peoples, Khmer Loeu, Hill Tribes or Montagnards, make up about 1per cent of Cambodia's population and live mostly in the north-eastern provinces of Ratanakiri, Mondulkiri, Stoeung Treng and Kratie, but also in Pursat, Koh Kong, Kompong Thom, Kampot, Preah Vihear and Kompong Speu. The main indigenous peoples of the north-east are the Tampuan, Kreung, Jarai, Brao, Kachak, Kaveth, Lun, Phnong, Ide, Stieng, Thmon, Kraol, Rahong, Kuy, Tamoan, Mil and Khaonje. The identity of these communities, their cultures and their traditional way of living are seriously at risk.

148. The Highland Peoples have a special relationship to their land, and their livelihood depends directly on swidden cultivation and the collection of non-timber forest products. However, they have no formal rights or title to land, and there are currently no legal, administrative or technical frameworks or procedures to ensure land tenure for them which are in accordance with their way of living.

149. The presence, citizenship and land use of the Highland Peoples have been disregarded in many government decisions. Logging concessions and concessions for industrial plantations have been granted on lands and forests which have been inhabited and used by Highland Peoples for many generations. Plans have been made, in cooperation with the National Mekong Committee and the Asian Development Bank, to construct several dams on tributaries of the Mekong by which major reservoir lakes will be created, flooding lands traditionally inhabited and used by Highland Peoples. For none of these projects and plans have the Highland Peoples been consulted or given their agreement.

150. Furthermore, NGOs testify that both legal and illegal logging, often under the protection of military or police forces, severely undermines the livelihood basis of the Highland Peoples. Persons trying to monitor illegal logging activities are threatened and intimidated. Purchase and leasing by outsiders of land and forests used by Highland Peoples, with the involvement of local authorities, result in the fragmentation and weakening of the Highland Peoples' communities. The large-scale deforestation has already had a clearly negative environmental impact, which in turn threatens the Highland Peoples and other Cambodians as well.

151. Appropriate health care is hardly available and education adapted to the needs of the local communities is not provided. Information about development plans and options is not accessible to the Highland Peoples, who have little possibility to voice their needs, interests and aspirations. Their isolation, poverty and lack of self-organization makes them vulnerable to interventions and exploitation by outsiders. The justice system does not function for their benefit.

152. The Special Representative, however, commends the work of the Inter-Ministerial Committee which, in cooperation with the Cambodia office, has prepared a draft National Policy on Highland Peoples' Development, integrating international human rights standards. He recommends that this document be submitted soon to the Council of Ministers for approval and implementation. Furthermore, he recommends that the Royal Government accede to ILO Convention No. 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, which provides a useful framework for a national policy on this issue. The Special Representative also commends the Land Rights Action Research Project in Ratanakiri of the human rights NGO ADHOC (Associations des droits de l'homme et du developpement au Cambodge), planned in cooperation with the Governor of Ratanakiri, the Provincial Land Titles Department, UNDP/CARERE (Cambodian Resettlement and Regeneration project) and the Non-Timber Forest Products Project, to which the Cambodia office is also giving support.

153. The Special Representative urges the Government to officially recognize the presence and citizenship of the Highland Peoples, as well as their use of land, forests and other natural resources, and their distinct and unique identity, culture and way of living. Cambodian identity cards should be issued to them. The role of indigenous peoples in managing and preserving forests and biological diversity should be recognized. The Government should protect the integrity of highland villages and their boundaries, as well as their lands and forests, against encroachment by outsiders. The Special Representative recommends that villages, lands and forests used by the Highland Peoples be clearly mapped and preserved from any current and future commercial concession or similar use. Local commune forestry projects should be recognized and supported. Public and private projects should only take place after due consultation with the peoples affected, and social, environmental and cultural impact assessment studies have been carried out.

[Click here to continue to the next segment.]

Copyright 1998
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Geneva, Switzerland

 

Article Segment 1 | Article Segment 2 | Article Segment 3 | Article Segment 4


W3C Validation