The 66th Anniversary of the International Human Rights day

On the occasion of the 66th Anniversary of the International Human Rights Day a seminar on “Usage of Rights and Law” on December, 9th 2014 was organized in the name of the Senate and the National Assembly of the Kingdom of Cambodia. HeinrichBoell Foundation participated and co-sponsored the event. 

Members of the National Assembly and the Senate, representatives of the Ministries, Ambassadors, NGOs and venerable monks attended and contributed to the conference. 

The Seminar on the “Usage of Rights and Law” served the purpose of improving and fostering the mutual understanding and communication on the situation of Human Rights in Cambodia and to address challenges that still remain. 

Celebrations were launched with a Symbolic Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and with remarks by H.E. Tep Ngorn, the 2nd Vice President of the Senate.

In an exhibition institutions such as Handicap International, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Camasean, The Advocacy and Policy Institute (API), The National League of Local Councils, Youth Resource Development Programm (YRDP), The Asian International Initiative (East-West Center), the Cambodian Rights Action Committee, The Heinrich Boell Foundation and the Senate itself presented their human rights related work and provided information on their projects and publications. 

To mark the event, the Heinrich Boell Foundation presented a quiz for all guest to demonstrate their knowledge on Human Rights. In order to provide equal changes for all participants to get the answers correct and win nice prices versions in Khmer as well as in English were available.

Amongst the distinguished speakers from the Ministries were H.E. Mok Sambath, the Chairman of Human Rights Committee of Cambodia and Mrs. Sakhoeun Savathdy, the Deputy General Directorate of Social Development Ministry of Women Affairs for example.

Presentations from the government most often emphasized that the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia approves and respects the human rights as stated in the Charter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Agreements and Treaties concerning to Human Rights, Women Rights and Children Rights, especially the guarantee on the equity before the law, the prohibition of illegal detention, torture and discrimination, the protection on the freedom of expression. 

At the same time, however, they somewhat acknowledged a lack of full implementation and compliance of these principles, in practice. 

Non-governmental organizations were represented, for instance, by Mr. Am Samath, the technical Coordinator of LICHADO, Mr. Kim Ratana, Executive Director of Caritas-Cambodia and Ms. Wan Hea Lee, representative of UNCOHCHR in Cambodia. 

The majority of speakers recognized that, no doubt, there has been improvement of what there once was, with reference to human rights in Cambodia. However, they also emphasized that the implementation and access to human rights within certain situations and areas continues to be in a sorry state of affairs. The principle of respect for persons, the obligation of the state to protect and promote human rights, such as freedom of expression, and its obligation to grant access to information remain challenges that need to be addressed. 

In his speech, Country Director of the Heinirch Boell Foundation, Ali-Al Nasani addressed the audience by introducing the history and work of the foundation. He explained the world wide engagement in supporting a society moving forward towards more respect for human rights and democratic values and participation. Furthermore he pointed out the core themes of the Heinrich Boell Foundation that are promotion of democracy, specifically aiming to strengthen civil society and democratically legitimate parliaments, bolstering women’s political and social rights and campaigning against discrimination and criminalization of people whose sexual orientation or gender identity does not conform to the norm.

When it comes to the situation of women’s rights he raised awareness to the fact that even though men and women are enjoying equal rights in Cambodia on paper, reality unfortunately looks much different. Women are still facing major challenges in reality such as discrimination, sexual exploitation, domestic violence, and less access to higher education only to present few of their difficulties mentioned in the speech. He also explained that being more disadvantaged than what many have expected, women in Cambodia are additionally affected by a culture of impunity as many cases of domestic violence remain uninvestigated.

Focusing on the subject of access to information, he reported that transparency and access to quality information still seem to be challenging for Cambodian citizens. For that reason Mr. Al-Nasani encouraged the Cambodian government to speed up the process of developing and enacting the Law on Access to Information as by denying information, human rights are violated.

In another aspect of his presentation he talked about the violation of the right to privacy which seems to have become a common practice in Cambodia. Especially local newspapers publish photos and mention the names of people arrested by the police although it is not clear if they have really committed a crime or not. For that reason Mr. Al-Nasani called to respect the presumption of innocence in a society as it is a pillar of the legal system under the rule of law.

With reference to the terrible Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia he pointed out that only the respect for human rights and democratic procedures alone will protect Cambodia from falling back to dictatorship.

In his speech it also became clear that corruption is a widespread problem in Cambodia resulting in human rights violations as well. He emphasized that the judiciary and police are involved; some judges for example rather care for their own money than being interested in fair trials. But he also mentioned that corruption can be fought successfully in Cambodia what could be seen in the education sector for the first time as the government effectively tackled the endemic culture of bribing this year. Therefore he encouraged the government’s Anti Corruption Unit to follow its vision to become an effective and successful institution which gathers broad participation from all sectors in fighting against corruption.

At the end of his presentation Mr. Al-Nasani raised attention to the importance of implementing human rights as well as social and cultural rights and fighting corruption and the misuse of power in order to avoid social unrest. He urged the government and the lawmakers to foster their collaboration and partnership with NGOs as they are experts in the field of human rights. He finally closed the speech by stressing out that the Heinrich Boell foundation is committed to contributing to cooperate and communicate for improving the situation in Cambodia.

After an interesting day of presentations and an active exchange of experiences and views, H.E. Kem Sokha, the 1st Vice President of the National Assembly, closed the seminar, thanking all participants for their contribution and presented appreciation certificates for supporting organizations.