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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Human rights in Cambodia: Human dignity under scrutiny and respect for the rule of law

The rule of law and human rights are two sides of the same principle: the freedom to live in dignity” (United Nations). It is with dignity and with respect for the rule of law that the Asian Vision Institute invites you to take note of how Cambodiacontinues to evolve in the area of human rights.

In 1991, the Paris Peace Accords brought an end to decades of strife and ushered in what is referred to as a “negative peace” – the absence of armed struggle. In 1998, a full and lasting positive peace came to pass under the “win-win” policy of Prime Minister Hun Sen. Cambodia has since sought to focus on the future, to build state institutions and social cohesion and to adopt alternatives to violence based on the culture of dialogue and national reconciliation. Landmine and weapons reduction campaigns and conflict resolution programs are prime examples of these efforts. In addition to being one of the founders of the ASEAN Regional Mine Action Centre, Cambodia has actively participated in United Nations (UN) peacekeeping and demining operations. Some 6,000 Cambodian peacekeepers have been deployed in many parts of the world.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Cambodia’s liberation from the brutal genocidal regime of the Khmer Rouge. This came in the wake of several years of brinkmanship by foreign powers. Forces once hailed as heroes became enemies overnight and a battered nation sought peace and stability. In 1979, it was with an unshakable resolve that the government of this nation committed to protecting its citizens from armed struggles and crimes against humanity.

Respect for this most basic of human rights and all others, remains a priority for Cambodia. Our nation is a party to eight core UN human rights treaties and is the only country in Asia to host a field office of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Nearly 80 percent of recommendations from the “Universal Periodic Review” of human rights records were accepted by Cambodia, following its most recent review cycle. The Cambodian Human Rights Committee disseminated these recommendations among relevant ministries and institutions and prepared an implementation report for the next review cycle.

With respect to labour and trade union rights and freedom of assembly and association, Cambodian garment workers, for example, are very well represented via some 2,500 unions present in about 1,000 factories. A national committee for review of international labour conventions and the Ministry of Labour have consulted with stakeholders to improve trade union laws. More than 80 percent of Cambodian exports originate with the textile, garment and footwear industries, where wages have more than doubled since 2013. These wages are untaxed, as are non-salary allowances and benefits. Employers contribute to the National Social Security Fund which provides for maternity leave benefits, workplace insurance and health care. A pension for workers in the garment sector will come into effect later this year and a similar program will be expanded to other sectors.

With respect to freedom of the press, Cambodians have access to 439 newspapers, 194 magazines, 20 bulletins, 171 news websites, 48 online TV channels, 40 press associations, 21 foreign news agencies, 83 radio stations, 137 provincial radio stations, 19 analogue TV stations, 8 digital TV stations and 210 provincial cable TV stations. Cambodians also enjoy freedom of expression via a variety of social media.

With respect to non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Cambodia hosts one of the higher numbers of aid organizations per capita in the world. More than 5,000 NGOs operate in the country and provide social and economic development and environmental protection aid in accordance with applicable rules and norms. These NGOs operate freely and exercise their rights to play a complementary role in national socio-economic development, climate change adaptation and environmental governance.

Cambodia is home to the largest youth and adolescent population in Southeast Asia; “bamboo shoots” as they are called. “Youth for Peace” and the “Alliance for Conflict Transformation” are examples of initiatives that are designed to help a new generation to move forward.

The national election in July of 2018 was conducted in a free, fair, peaceful and transparent manner. Twenty political parties were in the running. Despite a call for boycott, a significant majority of registered voters expressed their will to see this nation remain on a staunch path of peace, stability and progress. As in any democracy, those who would violate the rule of law are subject to prosecution and they may defend themselves in keeping with their rights as guaranteed under the constitution.

Private land governance in Cambodia is in gradual recovery. Policy and legal frameworks are being refined in accordance with individual rights and land use guidelines. Efforts are being made to curb illegal occupation of land by those who would seek to pervert regulations for their gain. Pending disputes are being reviewed and addressed. Nationwide land registration procedures are to be completed by 2021. Concession procedures are in place to allocate acreage to the land poor for residential settlement and / or family farming. Communal land registration programs for indigenous communities and affordable housing projects are underway.

This is but a sampling of the measures that the Royal Government of Cambodia has put in place to promote and to improve human rights on its soil. These achievements derive from mutual respect for authority, national sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence. We firmly believe that concerted constructive engagement among stakeholders and government is the most viable option for strengthening and sustaining a foundation for peace, harmony, democracy and prosperity.

The Asian Vision Institute (AVI) https://www.asianvision.org/ is an independent think tank based in Cambodia.

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