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Defending Human Rights
More than half a dozen Cambodian human rights organizations continued to be active throughout the country. On April 2 one of the COHCHR’s Khmer staff persons, who was monitoring demonstrations during Ranariddh’s return to Phnom Penh, was beaten by government security forces. During the unrest in Phnom Penh in September, local and international human rights workers attempting to monitor demonstrations or assist the wounded were harassed by government security officials.

Relations between the government and COHCHR were at times antagonistic, starting off in January with the unsuccessful visit to Cambodia of High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson. Even before Robinson arrived, a defiant Hun Sen put the U.N. on the defensive, derailing any agenda Robinson might have had. In a letter to Secretary-General Annan just before Robinson’s visit, Cambodia’s co-premiers accused the COHCHR of interference, arrogance and dissemination of inaccurate information and warned the U.N. not to offer protection to Ranariddh to enable him to return to Cambodia, claiming that the U.N.’s mandate did not cover accused criminals.

COHCHR nevertheless increased its human rights monitoring staff in the provinces during the elections. The U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg made eleven visits to Cambodia, continuing to speak out strongly on the issues of impunity, political violence, lack of access to the media, independence of the judiciary, and accountability.

The government moved to regulate NGOs during the year. In October 1997 the government had launched an NGO Monitoring Commission, with a particular focus on groups suspected of being involved in political or human rights work. In June 1998, a new draft Law on NGOs and Associations was circulated that would increase and complicate registration requirements for both national and local NGOs, prohibit associations from receiving foreign assistance, and bar foreign associations from receiving any government funding. The National Assembly had not acted on the draft law by October.





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