Banning of Forest Report Mocks Commitments to Human Rights
June 16, 2007
The $5 billion in aid plowed into Cambodia in the past decade has yielded little in return for the donors or the Cambodian people.
Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch

(New York) - Cambodia’s international donors should not accept any more empty promises from the Cambodian government on human rights, the rule of law and good governance, Human Rights Watch said today. The annual Consultative Group meeting of donors is scheduled to take place in Phnom Penh on June 19-20, and donors are expected to pledge more than US$600 million in additional aid for the next year.

Human Rights Watch said that the Cambodian government has made virtually no progress in the past decade on key pledges to donors on the rule of law or judicial independence. Impunity for human rights violations remains the rule. Corruption is rampant. Natural resources are still being plundered. Those who report on such abuses are threatened or harassed and sometimes subject to violence.

“The $5 billion in aid plowed into Cambodia in the past decade has yielded little in return for the donors or the Cambodian people,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The meeting has become an empty annual ritual, with the government making and breaking promises every year. There will be more promises made this year, but without serious donor pressure they, too, will be broken.”

Human Rights Watch called on the Cambodian government to rescind its June 3 order to “ban and collect” the recent report by Global Witness. The report, “Cambodia’s Family Trees,” alleges illegal logging by individuals close to Prime Minister Hun Sen. It also claims that the government’s promises to end illegal logging have been broken, that the army, military police and police are deeply involved in illegal logging, and that funds from illegal logging support Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard unit, which has been responsible for human rights abuses.

The government should officially repudiate reported statements by Kompong Cham provincial governor Hun Neng, Hun Sen’s brother. Hun Neng reportedly said on June 11 that “If they [Global Witness] come to Cambodia, I will hit them until their heads are broken.”

“The government’s reaction to the Global Witness report shows its lack of commitment to freedom of expression and public debate, and its continued thuggish behavior,” said Adams. “Donors should insist that the government undertake a credible judicial investigation into the criminal activities detailed in the report, rather than resort to violent threats against its authors. Donors often complain about a lack of political will from the government, but this will be a test of their political will, too.”

Human Rights Watch said that donors have a major role to play in determining Cambodia’s future by continuing their assistance to civil society and insisting that the government fully comply with commitments made at successive donor meetings dating back to 1993. After billions of dollars of donor support over the past 14 years, it is time for a clear and unambiguous signal to be sent to the government. Donors should make it clear that they can no longer accept previously unmet promises.

For more than a decade, donors have been providing aid equivalent to roughly half Cambodia’s national budget. As donors have noted, good governance is directly linked to a country’s pace of development. There is little doubt that Cambodia’s development continues to be slowed by the country’s poor governance.

“If donors are serious about development in Cambodia, they should start generating momentum for real reform,” said Adams. “They need to emphasize, not marginalize, the links between human rights and development.”

Development assistance and budgetary support should be contingent on the government meeting agreed benchmarks on human rights, the rule of law, and good governance, such as:

  • Tackling impunity for human rights abuses, including the many extrajudicial killings carried out during and after the July 1997 coup by Hun Sen’s government;
  • Ceasing to harass and threaten civil society activists and opposition party members;
  • Ensuring that the rights of individuals and organizations to defend and promote human rights are protected, including the right to peacefully criticize and protest government policies, in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the 1998 United Nations General Assembly Declaration on Human Rights Defenders;
  • Creating an independent and restructured National Election Committee;
  • Liberalizing electronic media ownership rules, including allowing transmitters of private, critical media to be as strong as those of pro-government private stations;
  • Complying fully with previous Consultative Group commitments to address corruption and misuse of natural resources and other state assets; these include public disclosure of information concerning management of land, forests, mineral deposits and fisheries, as well as the location of military development zones; and,
  • Passing legislation on asset disclosure and anti-corruption that meets international standards, and appointing an independent, international external auditor for government finances.

Past meetings of the Consultative Group have been attended by 18 countries and five intergovernmental organizations: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States, plus the Asian Development Bank, the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations Development Program, and the World Bank.

“The donors’ list of conditions hardly changes over time, and the government simply ignores them year after year,” said Adams. “Hun Sen continues to run circles around the donors, making the same empty promises every year and laughing all the way to the bank.”

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