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Human Rights in Cambodia Concludes on Note: Peace Without Justice is Unsustainable

I think there are a number of areas which the government is working towards in basic human rights, and there are a number of areas that I have identified and discussed with the government to vet human rights and also to increase in hand the number of indicators and targets and plans for meeting the development goals.

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UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia Rhona Smith (L) speaks to reporters at a press conference in Phnom Penh, May 9, 2019. RFA

Rhona Smith, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia, concluded her seventh visit to the Southeast Asian nation on Thursday with a list of recommendations for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government of ways to improve human rights and make the country’s political space more inclusive. She advised the government to identify those most at risk of being left behind by development efforts, called for protections of the right to peaceful assembly and association, and urged authorities to avoid excessive use of force in the policing of assemblies. Smith also called for the release of opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Kem Sokha from detention, where he has been held while under investigation for “treason,” general legal reforms to ensure that all Cambodians have access to justice, and a greater operating space for civil society.

Despite her comprehensive investigation into the situation of human rights in Cambodia, government spokesman Phay Siphan dismissed her recommendations as politically motivated, calling the fate of Kem Sokha a matter of the court and suggesting that NGOs in the country are “serving political purposes.” Smith spoke to RFA’s Khmer Service on Thursday about her visit and discussed how the country’s government can better safeguard rights for all Cambodians.

RFA: My first question is about your impression or observation regarding the [request] to visit Kem Sokha. Would you have any kind of statement to make regarding this again?

Smith: I regret that I was unable to get permission in order to go and meet with … Kem Sokha and the investigating judge was not able to meet with me either.

RFA: What would be your purpose of visiting him, should you be allowed to meet him?

Smith: I’m an independent expert appointed by the human rights council. I should be able to meet with persons in detention anywhere in Cambodia.

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I welcome some of the indications of openness and willingness, for example, to engage with civil society to try to address access to justice and to redress some of the problems I’ve identified with corruption and bribery. Pixabay

RFA: Do you think that Kem Sokha will be released any time soon?

Smith: In my view, Kem Sokha remains under detention and I’ve called upon the government and, indeed, the investigating judge to express my hope that Kem Sokha’s investigation is swiftly completed. It’s now been more than 18 months and either the trial can proceed or if there’s no … evidence for a trial, then the charges against him are definitively dropped.

RFA: Recently during your visit, the Battambang Court issued at least 26 warrants for 26 CNRP officials to appear before the court regarding their political activities. Do you think this is a breach of human rights in Cambodia amid your visit?

Smith: I believe it’s indicative of the lack of political space in Cambodia and I have concerns in that regard. And it is my hope that there will be a new opening for political culture in Cambodia based on dialogue and mutual respect.

RFA: Regarding these CNRP officials, of course, after the CNRP dissolution in late 2017, and also the reallocation of the seats of those elected commune councilors—5,007 commune councilors had to relinquish their positions to the ruling party and other parties—have you seen any progress in the democratic space in Cambodia since your last visit?

Smith: I see no tangible changes to the political space in Cambodia since my last visit.

RFA: In your last report in August, you made several recommendations—a lot of which concerned the freedom and human rights situation. During this visit, have you noticed any significant change or improvement based on those recommendations?

Smith: In most of the government meetings I have had, the government minister has taken time to update me on the changes that have been made since my last visit in their area of responsibility and also on responses to my recommendations.

RFA: So are you satisfied or, at least, what is your impression regarding these responses?

Smith: I think that there has been improvement in some areas of human rights in Cambodia since my last visit, and I welcome some of the indications of openness and willingness, for example, to engage with civil society to try to address access to justice and to redress some of the problems I’ve identified with corruption and bribery.

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If they work on pursuing the development goals, that will help embed human rights principles and provide targets and indicators that could be ambitious for the government to work towards and, in doing so, that would strengthen human rights … for everyone. Pixabay

RFA: Back to what you have indicated, time and again, that peace and prosperity are in line with human rights, respect and democracy. Do you still maintain this position?

Smith: Yes, it is still my view that peace without justice is unsustainable and development without freedoms will risk leaving people behind.

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RFA: What would be your call for the government of Cambodia to do now, based on what you feel are the priorities during this visit?

Smith: That’s a difficult question to answer. I think there are a number of areas which the government is working towards in basic human rights, and there are a number of areas that I have identified and discussed with the government to vet human rights and also to increase in hand the number of indicators and targets and plans for meeting the development goals. If they work on pursuing the development goals, that will help embed human rights principles and provide targets and indicators that could be ambitious for the government to work towards and, in doing so, that would strengthen human rights … for everyone. (RFA)

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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres Warns Countries Advocating Fossil Fuels

Antonio Guterres called on the nations that aren't taking action against climate change

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UN Sec-Gen Antonio Guterres warns countries advocating usage of fossil fuels. Wikimedia Commons

BY VISHAL GULATI

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday in a stern warning called on the nations advocating for fossil fuels and creating roadblocks in carbon neutral transition asking them to end those activities soon.

“I also call on anyone who is still lobbying their governments for a slow transition or even no transition – to end those activities now. The world is watching,” he emphasised in his address in the final week of the United Nations climate talks, COP25, which is being hosted in Madrid.

Shifting taxes from income to carbon, ending subsidies for fossil fuels, and ending investments in and construction of coal plants by 2020 are all efforts that will benefit from bold and genuine business buy-in and support, he said.

In 2020, many governments will present enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). We expect to see carbon neutrality strategies for 2050, and the decarbonisation of key sectors, such as energy, industry, construction and transport, added the UN Secretary General.

“In support of these efforts, I am calling on you, leaders from the private sector, to challenge your governments to use this opportunity to make clear their economic development policies that will enable your companies to invest decisively in a net-zero future,” Guterres said.

“We are still seeing too many bureaucratic and regulatory obstacles, including perverse fossil fuel subsidies and many other expressions of government action slowing down the private sector commitment to climate action.

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Antonio Guterres calls on leaders from private sectors to challenge their governements. Wikimedia Commons

“Only through positive ambition can private and public partners successfully drive ambitious climate action, particularly in hard-to-abate sectors,” the UN chief said.

To limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, there is a need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

“While we see some incremental steps towards sustainable business models, it is nowhere near the scope or scale required. What we need is not an incremental approach, but a transformational one. We need businesses to unite behind the science by taking rapid and ambitious action across their operations and value chains,” Guterres said.

I am encouraged that more than 170 major companies have already committed to set scientific, verifiable emission reduction targets aligned with a 1.5-degree future through the aBusiness Ambition for 1.5 degrees’ campaign, he added.

By stepping up and setting science-based targets, these companies are pioneering new ways of doing business and driving systemic change throughout the global economy,” he said.

They are also sending a clear signal to consumers, investors and governments that they intend to lead as the global economy undergoes a just transition to a net-zero future by 2050.

At the same time, the financial community is increasingly demonstrating commitment to the opportunities of a green economy.

UN secretary Antonio Guterres
“Only through positive ambition can private and public partners successfully drive ambitious climate action,” says Antonio Guterres. Wikimedia Commons

Investors managing close to $4 trillion dollars in assets have committed to converting their investment portfolios to net-zero emissions by 2050 through the UN-convened Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance, and the markets are shifting more and more each day, Guterres said.

But business and financial actors can’t do this alone, he stressed.

“As we saw at the Climate Action Summit in September, the determination demonstrated by business and financial leaders offers a potential path of hope. As businesses back away from fossil fuels it helps send market signals to massively scale up innovative solutions. While we thank those leaders, we urgently need more to join and shift the pace to higher gears,” Guterres said.

The magnitude of the climate crisis is jeopardizing our future and life on the planet as we know it. Climate change is already disrupting people, business operations, economies and ecosystems around the world.

Also Read- Around 400mn Lives to be Affected by Year 2100 if Greenland Ice Melts at its Current Rate

More than ever we need governments, regions, cities, businesses and civil society to work together towards a common goal of a more just, sustainable and prosperous world,” he said, adding he has come back to COP25 to appeal for a successful conclusion of the conference and increased climate action and ambition, he noted. (IANS)