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

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

(Part 4 of 4)



154. The Commission on Human Rights in resolution 1997/49 and the General&assembly in resolution 52/135 expressed concern about the serious problem of impunity in Cambodia, in particular with regard to unlawful acts by the military and the police. As is clear from the present report, this issue has been a major theme in the work by the Special Representative. He has pointed out that limited personnel and economic resources have contributed to the serious problems within the court system. The United Nations Judicial Mentors Programme has been a constructive contribution to improvements. The Special Representative has appealed for more assistance for justice reform in Cambodia. Bilateral cooperation, mainly with Australia and Japan, has been valuable.

155. The fact that the Supreme Council of Magistracy finally was convened in December 1997 was welcomed by the Special Representative. This body will, according to the Constitution, oversee the functioning of the judicial system and make appointments to the judiciary. Hopefully, this development will in future protect the judiciary from political pressure, intimidation by military officers and corruption. Clearly, decisive measures are still needed to establish genuine independence of the court system.

156. The General Assembly recommended the repeal of article 51 of the 1994 Law on Civil Servants, which has been mentioned by the Special Representative as an obstacle to the principle of equality of all persons under the law. This section of the law provides that, except in cases of flagrante delicto, no civil servant may be arrested or prosecuted for any crime unless the concerned minister gives his consent in advance. The impact of this provision has been clearly negative and judges have told the Special Representative about their frustration with article 51. The Minister of Justice has indeed proposed an amendment but no action has been taken to that effect.

157. Serious crimes with a political connotation, including assassinations, have not been clarified. Still, no one has been arrested or prosecuted in the cases of the killing of four journalists in recent years and of the grenade attack against the BLDP meeting in September 1995. The commission set up to investigate the grenade attack against the KNP demonstration on 30 March 1997 has issued no official report and no one has been arrested or charged for this crime. In the opinion of the Special Representative, this pattern of impunity in politically related criminal cases threatens the freedom of expression.

158. The call by the General Assembly, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Representative for serious investigations into the executions in July/August 1997 has not resulted in a comprehensive inquiry into these killings or in prosecutions in the individual cases. The Special Representative has expressed deep concern about this inaction.

159. Prison conditions continue to be very poor and the problem of the delayed payments of allocations for food and necessities to prisons from the State budget remains unresolved. The co-Ministers of Interior have, however, opened a constructive discussion on these problems with the Special Representative and have suggested further international assistance for prison reform. An Australian aid project in this field has been appreciated.

160. The problem of torture was raised in a letter of 11 November 1997 by the Minister of Justice commenting upon the report to the General Assembly. The Minister assured the Special Rapporteur that the Ministry had paid the highest attention to the problem. This is welcomed though the Special Representative also has to report that he has received further information indicating that torture still occurs at a number of police stations.

161. Two pieces of legislation necessary for the 1998 national elections were passed by the National Assembly, one on political parties and the other on the election system. A standing National Electoral Committee was appointed in late January 1998, a draft law on the Constitutional Council was submitted to the Assembly and the election date has been set. However, essential steps are still required to ensure that the elections will be genuinely free, fair and credible. The Special Representative has, in particular, pointed at the need to ensure that all political parties and candidates could make their voices heard without intimidation all over the country. He has also stressed the importance of free and equal access to the media. Determined steps to end impunity are also needed in order to create an open and safe election atmosphere and to encourage all politicians in exile to return home. Such politicians should be guaranteed freedom from arrest and detention in respect of acts done and words spoken prior to their return, as stated by H.E.Ung Huot and H.E. Hun Sen to the United Nations Secretary-General in October 1997.

162. The Royal Government has reacted positively to the proposal by the Special Representative, and supported by the General Assembly, about international assistance for the purpose of assisting Cambodia in responding to past serious violations of Cambodian and international laws. This is in response to a letter by the two Prime Ministers on 21 June 1997 which requested support for bringing to justice those persons responsible for the genocide and/or crimes against humanity during the rule of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979. The Special Representative is presently preparing a proposal on this issue.

163. The conditions of workers in the garment and other industries are still of concern. The Labour Code is not respected in a number of factories in Phnom Penh and the authorities delay registration of new trade unions.

164. The Special Representative is concerned about the lack of progress in the field of women's rights. The drop-out rate of girls from school is high, especially at secondary level. Women are victimized through domestic violence and their access to public health facilities is insufficient. There is no genuine encouragement of women's participation in political and public life.

165. The Government has submitted its report on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Major efforts are, however, needed to remedy problems in the field of education, to reform the system of juvenile justice, to put an end to the practice of recruiting minors for the armed forces and to combat other hazardous child labour, including child prostitution.

166. There have been police actions against persons organizing prostitution, including child prostitution, in Phnom Penh but further measures are needed to protect young people from being exploited and to rehabilitate children who have gone through such an ordeal. The Special Representative is particularly concerned about the frequency of HIV infection among prostitutes, including young ones, and the lack of preventive and social action to address this acute problem. The Special Representative has had constructive cooperation with the Ministry of Interior on the issue of trafficking in persons. During his visit to the province of Koh Kong in January 1998 the provincial authorities promised strong intervention against such criminal trade in human beings.

167. The Special Representative welcomes Cambodia's endorsement of the international treaty banning anti-personnel landmines in December 1997. However, the draft law prohibiting anti-personnel landmines at the domestic level was, at the time of writing, still not adopted by the National Assembly. Stiff penalties are set out to punish violators possessing, using, producing, trading in, importing or exporting mines. The Special Representative urges the National Assembly to consider this law as an absolute priority to ensure that no landmines will ever be laid again in Cambodia. The adoption of this law might also facilitate the mobilization of funds from the international community for the enormous and expensive task of demining.


168. The Special Representative, in line with his mandate, has maintained contact with the Government and people of Cambodia. During his two recent visits he met government representatives and officials as well as representatives of political parties, non-governmental organizations and trade unions. Also, the Special Representative has taken note of a written comment by H.E. Ung Huot and H.E. Hun Sen dated 18 November 1997 on the report to the General Assembly (A/52/489). The discussions with government representatives have for the most part been constructive, though the Second Prime Minister made negative public remarks in late January 1998 about United Nations human rights work in Cambodia. It was agreed that the Special Representative would meet with the Second Prime Minister during his next visit.

169. In order to fulfil his second task, to guide and coordinate the United Nations human rights presence in Cambodia, the Special Representative has stayed in constant touch with the Cambodia office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The office assists him during his visits in Cambodia as well as during their preparation and follow-up. The visit by the High Commissioner for Human Rights in January 1998 was coordinated to coincide with the presence of the Special Representative.

170. During his visits the Special Representative met with the Representative of the Secretary-General for Cambodia, Mr.Lakhan Mehrotra, and other key representatives of the United Nations system, including UNDP, UNICEF, UNHCR, WFP, ILO and UNESCO. In view of the forthcoming elections it is important that the human rights programme is coordinated with other related United Nations efforts. In January 1998, the Special Representative discussed with UNICEF, WHO, ILO, IOM and UNDP the possibility of establishing an inter-agency task force to coordinate international support for Cambodian efforts to combat child prostitution and trafficking.

171. The third task of the Special Representative is to assist the promotion and protection of human rights in Cambodia. The present report is part of that endeavour. He has also contributed by raising concrete problems directly with the authorities at the central and provincial levels. The cooperation with the Ministry of Interior has been particularly constructive. Furthermore, the Special Representative has argued for international assistance for the promotion of human rights in Cambodia - for reforms of the court and prison system, education and training of law enforcement personnel, reform of the school system, support to non-governmental organizations, etc.

172. Although the intention is constructive, it is in the nature of reports such as the present one that there will be a focus on critical and negative aspects. There have also been strong reasons for concern on a number of issues as spelled out in this report. At the same time, the Special Representative emphasizes that he has encountered much good will and many persons, within the Government and the judiciary as well as in the non-governmental sector, who perform heroic work for the improvement of the human rights situation of Cambodia. They contribute to genuine progress.

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