Cambodian government ignores UN recommendations on human rights practices

Following recommendations made at the Universal Periodic Review on 26 June, which saw the UN process shed light on a number of abuses apparently conducted by the current Cambodian administration, the government responded stating that the suggestions have been ‘noted’. The UN recommendations ignored by the government ranged from the reduction of control on free media, to calls for the end of unfair trials. Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, noted: “Prime Minister Hun Sen and those speaking on his behalf have shown their true colors in this process, ignoring serious recommendations and falling back on a false exceptionalism to justify their continued rights abuses. Foreign donors who give so much assistance to Cambodia should jointly use their influence to push for the government to end its reliance on human rights violations to control the country.” What has led the government to find the necessity to suppress its people? And what can the international community do to help resolve this situation?

The Cambodian government’s structure grew out of the rubble left behind by Pol Pot and the Khmer rouge. Hun Sen and a proportion of his administration are former members of the Khmer Rouge, holding active roles within the dictatorship indicating that they also may have participated in the horrific human rights abuses conducted by the former regime. Since the fall of Khmer Rouge, Sen has had a constant presence within the country’s government in one form or another.

This is not the first time international bodies and NGO’s have been concerned by practices occurring under Hun Sen’s premiership. In 1987 Amnesty International accused the Cambodian government of the torture of thousands of political prisoners. Following a coup in 1997, the organisation issued an open letter to the Prime Minister condemning the execution of royalist supporters. More recently, during the election campaign in 2013, exiled opposition leader, Sam Rainsy stated that he and his party would endeavour to bring unnamed members of the current leadership to justice for their role in the Khmer Rouge regime. This was met by an irrational statement from Hun Sen who claimed the election of the opposition would result in the country disintegrating into civil war.

Within the litany of abuses included within the UN’s recommendations were calls for the government to end its suspension of the right to freedom of peaceful protest. This harsh, repressive measure was demonstrated on 3 January 2014 when the military police opened fire on a group of garment factory workers protesting low wages, resulting in four dead and twenty injured. Several notable retailers use Cambodian factories, including GAP. It therefore poses the question: should international governments put pressure on Big Business to force factories to improve conditions and agree basic rights to reduce the likelihood of such abuses?

Sen’s administration has also chosen to ignore the UN’s recommendations to protect land rights in Cambodia. There has been an increase in the number of stories over the past few years of villagers being forcibly removed from their homes in order to make way for crop cultivation, generally produced for exportation. It is estimated that up to 400,000 people have lost their homes and land in this way since 2003.

Perhaps the most well documented land grab was the in the Koh Kong region of the country where the land of 450 families was violently confiscated in 2006 and ownership transferred to the politically connected Khon Kaen Sugar Ltd (KSL), a Thai sugar company. Now, whilst KSL may not sound familiar, the company that they have an exclusive partnership with certainly will; Tate and Lyle. The British based company was branded as having its supply chain directly linked to the blatant abuse of human rights and the Cambodian government who had orchestrated the whole affair. Land rights are a hugely contentious issue in the country following the abolition of land deeds by the Khmer Rouge, meaning farmers are now even more vulnerable to land grabs. The Guardian reported that Tate and Lyle claimed that it required KSL to submit documentation to ensure that land owners were adequately compensated for the land. As the company’s claims of being both both an ethical and sustainable agribusiness have been proved untrustworthy, there continues to be calls for a boycott of its “blood sugar”. But what about the Cambodian government? KSL and Tate and Lyle were put in front of the firing squad for its involvement in the land grabs, but the concessions were granted and regulated by Hun Sen and his party. The introduction of sanctions would only hinder those at the bottom of the food chain. What is needed is reform.

The international community needs to take more responsibility for its supply chain. By putting pressure on the Cambodian government to provide workers their rights and access to a decent minimum wage and ensuring that land for sugar production is acquired in a legal manner, the first steps will have been taken to help Cambodia on its path to true democracy. Free, uncensored elections should be regulated by international bodies to ensure the country’s people have a say in the direction of Cambodian politics. Sen and his administration cannot be allowed to dismiss these serious human rights abuse claims against its own people. With the current government stemming from the Khmer Rouge, reform and regulations need to be enforced to bring resolution to the current situation. The Cambodian population have suffered through a catastrophic genocide/ Now that they have finally been met with an apparent democracy, they continue to be suppressed.

By Sophie O’Donoghue

Twitter: @ODonoghueSophie

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Categories: Asia, International politics

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One Comment on “Cambodian government ignores UN recommendations on human rights practices”

  1. July 10, 2014 at 9:39 pm #

    Great piece. The Universal Periodic Review is a great idea in principle but with zero consequences comes zero action. My own government (Irish) have been ignoring UN criticism on our treatment of indigenous peoples and our prison conditions since the reviews began. Like most things the UN do, it’s a nice idea but it doesn’t effect change.

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