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Cambodia: President Obama's Visit And Rule of Law

November 13, 2012
A Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission
Cambodia: President Obama's Visit And The Serious Problems About Democracy And Rule Of Law
The visit of President Obama to Cambodia between November 17-20 should be an occasion to ask some vital and serious questions regarding the commitment of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and the international community on the issues of democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

To be very blunt the questions that everyone should ask is as to whether without a professional civilian policing system and a competent and independent judiciary can there be democracy, rule of law and human rights? The obvious answer is no; and that really raises the question as regards Cambodia where neither a professional civilian policing system exists, nor is there an independent judiciary. When things are so clearly negative can the United States as well as others ignore that situation and claim that they are committed to the promotion of democracy, rule of law and human rights in Cambodia.

The problem goes to the very root of the Paris agreements relating to Cambodia as well as the United Nations Transitional Authority for Cambodia itself. Were not all these ventures merely an attempt to have an election to elect a government for Cambodia only? Did they have any bearing on democracy, rule of law and human rights?

The United Nations Transitional Authority did nothing to establish a professional civilian policing system. Nor did it contribute in any way to the creation of a competent and independent judiciary. In 1993 when the UN sponsored elections were held there was no possibility of there being a professional civilian policing system or a competent and independent judiciary. What most parts of Cambodia had was a socialist form of commune policing and what was called the judiciary was directly under the control of political authorities. That was known to everyone.

Still there was not even any kind of plan, even to study and grasp what was involved in creating a professional civilian policing system and a competent and independent judiciary.

Achieving such changes after the devastation created by the Pol Pot period and the socialist style of administration introduced under the supervision of the Vietnamese was no easy task. The first step anyway, would have been to get a good grasp of the problem and this could have been done only by way of a comprehensive study done by experts who had do such a study with the close cooperation of the Cambodians who knew the local situation.

No such thing was done and there is even now, not even an idea mooted about doing such a thing.

Under these circumstances putting slogans that a professional civilian policing system should be established along with an independent judiciary means nothing more than empty words. It has become a characteristic of the international community that it offers nothing else for countries like Cambodia and many other countries facing similar problems except empty words.

President Obama cannot do miracles in his country or elsewhere. If he has any degree of seriousness about the problems of democracy, rule of law and human rights in Cambodia what he should do first is to create the possibility of a proper understanding of what is involved in achieving these essential objectives. If a proper and comprehensive idea of what needs to be done and in what ways it can done can be articulated then a meaningful discussion can begin with the Cambodian government both to convince and pressurise it to cooperate in a scheme to achieve these objectives.

What the people of Cambodia and those who face similar problems elsewhere get from the developed world is only rhetoric. The development of comprehensive schemes backed by proper understanding is not even in the language of discourse on these matters anymore.

What the Asian Human Rights Commission urges President Obama and his advisors to do is to utilise the occasion of his visit with some seriousness and pursue ways to initiate a process of a proper understanding of the problems involved in the development of professional civilian policing system and a competent and independent judiciary in Cambodia. If this is done it may be the first move towards some basic infrastructural developments relating to democratisation, rule of law and human rights.

Read this statement online at AHRC

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.


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