US hearing 'absolutely unfair': govt
Wednesday, 02 September 2009
The Phnom Penh Post
A US congressional hearing to discuss human rights in Cambodia is "absolutely unfair", the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Tuesday.
Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said the hearing by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a congressional body that monitors human rights norms around the world, is "biased", as no one from the Cambodian government has been invited to testify.
A statement released by US Congressman Frank Wolf, the co-chair of the commission, said the purpose of the hearing, scheduled for September 10, is to discuss land evictions, labour laws and the prosecution of opposition figures. "These issues are part of a concerning trend in the Cambodian government's overall human rights record," the statement read.
The commission has invited three Cambodians to participate on a panel as official witnesses: Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Mu Sochua, Licadho rights group president Kek Galabru (Pung Chiv Kek), and Community Legal Education Centre labour programme head Moeun Tola. The US State Department will also invite witnesses who have not yet been announced.
Koy Kuong expressed concern that the commission had invited "only opposition groups", likening the congressional proceedings to "the referee at a boxing match calling only one corner".
"[The invited witnesses] can criticise the government, they can say whatever they want, with no one to testify or to clarify against them," he said.
Naly Pilorge, director of Licadho, said it was wrong to characterise the gathering as an exclusion of government representatives, however, emphasising that it will be open to all interested parties.
"This hearing is not a secretive process. It's a very open and public process," she said, adding that she expects to see the Cambodian ambassador to the United States, students and representatives of other NGOs in attendance.
SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said that as a donor of foreign aid to Cambodia, the US "wants to see progress in the development of democracy and human rights". In order to ensure that aid is distributed effectively, he said, American policymakers must "ensure that this country respects the rule of law".
Naly Pilorge said Kek Galabru plans to raise "human rights issues relating to social, economic, political and civil rights" at the hearing. Koy Kuong, however, was sceptical that the event would generate meaningful discussion or action.
"The hearing will not improve the human rights situation overall," he said.