Cablegate: Human Rights Day in Phnom Penh: Multiple

Published: Wed 13 Dec 2006 11:24 AM
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1. (U) Summary. Post participated in three celebrations of
International human Rights Day, two of which received partial
funding from USAID. On December 8, the Cambodian senate
organized its own celebration: focusing on the legislature's
role in human rights and highlighting the needs of specific
vulnerable groups including orphans, the blind, and land mine
victims. Approximately, 15 representatives of the
international community attended, with the Office of the High
Commissioner for Human Rights reportedly added to the group
only at the last minute. On December 9, the Cambodian Human
Rights Action Committee (CHRAC) organized a symposium to
focus on human rights and poverty, with participation by
victims of land disputes in Phnom Penh. On December 10, more
than 10,000 people gathered at Olympic Stadium to hear
speeches by NGO leaders, diplomats and government officials
as well as view booths set up by NGOs. The Ambassador
delivered remarks that received broad press coverage. RGC
officials waited until the last possible minute to provide
permission to the NGOs to use the public stadium. In sharp
contrast to 2005, however, the police did little to harass
participants. On December 12, the Prime Minister responded
to the criticism by stating that by promoting development his
government was furthering human rights. End Summary.
Multiple HR Events
2. (U) On December 8, the Cambodian senate marked
International Human Rights Day with a short ceremony focusing
on the legislature's role in human rights. The event
highlighted the needs of specific vulnerable groups including
orphans, the blind, and land mine victims and concluded with
the Senate speakers symbolically providing bags of rice to
approximately 20 representatives of each of those groups.
Some 15 representatives of the international community
attended, with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human
Rights reportedly added to the group only at the last minute.
3. (U) On December 9, the Cambodian Human Rights Action
Committee (CHRAC) sponsored a forum for NGOs and civil
society representatives on the importance of human rights in
development and poverty reduction programs. Keynote speaker
Hina Jilani, a Special Representative of the United Nations
for Human Rights Defenders, spoke of the linkage between
respect for human rights and development. Sok Sam Oeun,
director of the Cambodian Defenders' Project, spoke about the
sensitive issues of land rights and poverty in Cambodia.
Margo Picken of the United Nations Office of the High
Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia remarked that
adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948
was only a first step; people have made the declaration a
living document. Canadian Ambassador Donica Pottie noted
that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was agreed
upon by developed and developing countries when it was
adopted. She stressed that human rights are not just a
Western concept and that all people want to live free of fear
and have an equal chance in development. Noting the wide
prevalence of domestic violence in Cambodian society, Ung
Chanthol, Executive Director of the Cambodian Women's Crisis
Center, discussed the poor state of women's rights in
Cambodia. Theary Seng of the Center for Social Development
asserted that corruption in Cambodia was the primary obstacle
to both development and improvement on the human right front.
4. (U) The CHRAC event featured a contentious question and
answer session between audience members and CPP Senator Uk
Kong. One person, who had recently been evicted from his
land, complained that the government was acting like the
Khmer Rouge. While thanking local NGOs and others for
helping fight for his legal rights, the same land-dispute
victim stated that he filed complaints with government
officials but found no one willing to help. In one case, the
responsible Secretary of State at the Ministry of Interior
was not at his job for months. Kong, a member of the
Senate's human rights commission, stated that the evictions
in Phnom Penh were a complicated situation necessary to
beautify and develop Phnom Penh. Another audience member,
who had also been evicted from his home in Phnom Penh,
remarked that he had been living on land given by the PM in
1979 to his community. He questioned the senator as to why
the government could not help people when local authorities
and companies want to evict people from their property.
Sidestepping the question, the senator remarked that in 1979
no land conflicts took place; conflicts have only arisen
recently as development pressures have increased.
International HR Day: No Problems
PHNOM PENH 00002180 002 OF 002
5. (U) On December 10, nearly 10,000 people gathered at
Phnom Penh's Olympic Stadium to listen to speeches by civil
society leaders, diplomats, and RGC officials. Focusing on
the event's theme, "We Are All Human Rights Defenders"; the
Ambassador spoke about the harsh conditions that human rights
defenders have to work under in Cambodia; he noted how some
have been killed while others have been imprisoned for their
work. The Ambassador added that certain Cambodian officials
remain fearful of dissent and criticism. He explained that
while no official likes to be publicly criticized, such
criticism can help further stabilize Cambodia and bring true
peace and prosperity to its citizens. Son Heng, Deputy
Director General of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee,
represented the Cambodian government; he is an associate of
Om Yentieng, adviser to the Prime Minister and head of the
Cambodian Human Rights Committee. Although the Cambodian
government granted permission to celebrate International
Human Rights Day, Phnom Penh Municipal authorities waited
until the last possible moment (Friday afternoon for a Sunday
event) to issue the license to the NGO organizers. The same
license was granted nearly two weeks before the same event in
2005. Despite the short notice, NGO organizers were still
able to plan a successful event, although King Sihamoni was
not able to send a representative.
6. (U) In contrast to 2005, little tension was manifest
between the police and NGO organizers. But at the Cambodian
Center for Human Rights (CCHR) booth, the police were
apparently displeased to see a 2 meter by 3 meter photograph
of police in riot gear confiscating kites. (Note: On
November 27, riot police had blocked NGO workers and
lawmakers outside the National Assembly from flying kites to
highlight the need for freedom of expression. End Note.)
Observers stated that police took photographs of the large
photograph as well as made notes about the literature being
distributed by the USAID/IRI-funded NGO. No other problems
were reported. Pol/Econ Chief spoke with CCHR leader Kem
Sokha following the close of the day's events, and Sokha was
untroubled by what had happened.
7. (U) On December 12, Prime Minister Hun Sen responded to
the critiques levied during the weekend's events. He argued
that the RGC has been promoting human rights by providing
people with "survival" rights. The PM reiterated that
"schools, irrigation systems, hospitals and pagodas are human
rights." He went on to argue that if not for the liberation
of Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge no one would have been alive
to demand human rights.
8. (SBU) Comment: It is unfortunate that the government
still refuses to allow such gatherings to go forward without
creating some sort of obstacle and still missed the point
that constructive criticism can help Cambodia improve. At
the events on December 9 and 10, the government was
represented by low-level people indicative of the disinterest
shown by the RGC in working collaboratively with civil
society. By waiting until the last administrative day to
release the license, the local authorities had hoped to
dampen participation in the event, discourage speakers, and
keep attendance numbers low. End Comment.
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