Cablegate: Cambodian Government and Ngos Begin Effort to Form

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1. (SBU) Summary. Prime Minister Hun Sen opened a two-day
meeting in Siem Riep September 26-27 by asking NGOs to draft
legislation to create a national human rights commission in
one year. Members of civil society, Cambodian lawmakers,
government officials and foreign observers participated in
the debate over the proposed commission's mandate. The NGOs
left the conference skeptical about the RGC's motivations as
well as divided over keys points. Nevertheless, they are
willing to attempt to craft an impartial, transparent, yet
empowered new body. End Summary.

PM Challenges NGOs to Establish New Commission
--------------------------------------------- -

2. (U) From September 26-27, Kem Sokha's Cambodia Center
for Human Rights (CCHR) sponsored a conference in Siem Reap
aimed at evaluating the potential for Cambodia to become the
fifth ASEAN country to establish a national human rights
commission. Prime Minister Hun Sen began the meeting by
asking NGOs to draft a law to establish the National Human
Rights Commission within six months. He then asked members
of the National Assembly present at the meeting to help pass
the legislation in six months so the new body could be up and
running in one year's time. In response to suspicions
regarding the RGC's intent, the PM stressed that respect for
human rights can only be fostered in a stable and peaceful
environment. The PM rhetorically argued that such a body
could not have been established during the Khmer Rouge era,
during the 1980s, or in today's Iraq. Hun Sen thought his
government should be thanked for bringing about the
conditions that allowed such a commission to be formed in

Beginning of the Debate

3. (U) Om Yentieng, Chairperson of the Cambodian Human
Rights Committee as well as an adviser to the Prime Minister,
stressed that the new institution would not replace any of
the four existing human rights bodies: the National
Assembly's Human Rights Commission, the Prime Minister's
Cambodian Human Rights Committee, the Senate Human Rights
Committee, or the NGO-led Cambodian Human Rights Action
Committee (CHRAC). He reiterated that the new institution
will be established by a law to be passed by the National
Assembly and the law should be in accordance with the
Cambodian Constitution and the Paris Principles. He repeated
the Prime Minister's one-year timetable, noting the laws of
the four existing ASEAN human rights institutions in
Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines have
already been translated into Khmer. LICADHO's Kek Galabru
stressed that the new human rights commission should have
political independence, cooperate with existing state
institutions, be accessible to the public, and have
pluralistic representation while being transparent and
effective. She wanted commissioners to be able to issue
arrest warrants but not function as a court, be able to visit
prisons, and have a sufficient budget and resources to do
their jobs.

4. (U) Thun Saray of ADHOC envisions a commission that is
enshrined in the Cambodian Constitution, has members who are
not members of any political party, and has an autonomous
budget. He also warned that it was imperative that judicial
reform accompany the establishment of the national human
rights institution. Pen Panha, the Chairperson of the Human
Rights Commission of the National Assembly, stated that a
constitutional amendment is not necessary because the preface
to the Constitution guarantees human rights.

Reports from Other ASEAN Human Rights Commissions
--------------------------------------------- ----

5. (U) Dr. Petcharamesree, an expert on the Thai
commission, stated that the commission was enshrined in the
constitution of Thailand, was still operating despite the
recent coup, and included 11 members who have six-year
mandates. In her opinion, the major problems with the Thai
commission are that it has no power to summon witnesses and
its budget is part of the national budget (making it subject
to possible Parliamentary interference). Mr. Darusman, a
member of the Indonesian human rights commission, noted that
the establishment of a human rights commission in Indonesia
has broken a climate of impunity by the state bureaucracy and
the military. Human rights violations can be resolved in
Indonesian courts and a human rights policy has become
engrained in the government.

PHNOM PENH 00001871 002 OF 003

6. (U) Mr. Subramaniam, a member of the Malaysian human
rights commission, explained that the Malaysian commission is
enshrined in an act of parliament, not the constitution; the
commission in Malaysia is organized on a thematic basis with
17 commissioners divided into four areas: education,
investigation and complaints, economics, and law and reform.
He asserted that he was very proud of the work that the
commission had done incorporating human rights into education
in Malaysia. He also noted that the commission in Malaysia
has the right to call anyone in for questioning. Dr.
Valera-Quisumbing, Chairperson of the Human Right Commission
of the Philippines, stated that their commission is enshrined
in their constitution with five commissioners who serve
seven-year terms. She said the commission has the power to
investigate violations upon complaint or on its own
initiative, and has the power to call domestic and overseas
Filipinos for questioning. She also indicated that the
results of its investigations must go to courts and that her
commission has created centers of excellence in children's
rights, women's rights and village rights.

7. (U) Stephen Clark, project manager for the Asia-Pacific
Forum, and Ms. Marianne Haugaard, from the Office of the High
Commissioner for Human Rights' Geneva office, spoke about the
support that their organizations can provide in helping
establish a national human rights institution. They
discussed the Paris Principles on which such a body should be
based. They emphasized that such a body must be independent
and transparent. They also stated that establishing such a
body is not an end in itself but a step in a long-term battle
to respect human rights.

Constitutional Amendment or Organic Law?

8. (U) Participants later divided into four groups to
discuss their ideas on the establishment of a human rights
commission. The groups agreed that commissioners should be a
diverse group, independent from all political parties, and
should have diverse funding sources (the national budget as
well as foreign donors). The participants also agreed that
the commission should have broad responsibilities in the
areas of education and investigations. Agreement was also
reached that commissioners should have immunity during their

9. (U) NGOs and government officials disagreed, however, on
the commission having the power to protect witnesses and
their families. Disagreement broke out between the members
of civil society and the government regarding the
commission's legal basis: should it be a part of the
Cambodian Constitution or part of an organic law? Members
also disagreed over the length of a term for commission
members as well as if the commission should set up a special
human rights court or work within the existing legal system.
LICADHO pressed to have the assets of commission members and
their families disclosed.

10. (U) Despite several areas of disagreement, those
assembled resolved to establish a national human rights
commission based on the Paris Principles. The delegates also
agreed to create a joint working group with representatives
from government and NGOs that would engage with other members
of civil society to draft the necessary laws for the
commission. However, NGOs continued to press for any
legislation to be included in the Constitution arguing that
the current government can rescind legislation at any time
because it holds a majority in the National Assembly. Om
Yentieng argued that amending the Constitution was not
possible in a timely manner because only the King, Prime
Minister, President of the National Assembly, or President of
the Senate can propose amendments. By asking civil society
to draft the legislation for the national human rights body.
Om Yentieng said the PM had shown "the necessary political
will" and asked the NGOs to trust the PM about the future of
this body. The PM's advisor recommended that an expert on
the Paris Principles be brought in to educate the members of
the working group charged with drafting the law. He also
recommended studying the four existing ASEAN commissions and
India's commission because it has prosecutorial power.


11. (SBU) Since the end of the conference, the heads of
five NGOs - CCHR, LICADHO, ADHOC, Cambodian Defenders'

PHNOM PENH 00001871 003 OF 003

Project and Star Kampuchea - have been named as the civil
society members of the joint working group to establish the
new body. It must be noted that this group is made up of
only one lawyer. The government, however has not announced
who will be its representatives for this joint working group.
NGO leaders remain hesitant over the prospect of joining the
proposed commission once it is established; some have denied
any intentions to become commissioners while others have
adopted a wait-and-see approach. Though many government
officials and NGOs believe meeting the PM's one-year deadline
will be difficult, crafting this legislation at a deliberate
rather than a rapid pace may be desirable in this instance.
The RGC's excuse that such a commission cannot be embedded in
the country's constitution due to the lengthy time to pass a
constitutional amendment is a dodge; the RGC passed an
amendment putting in place a 50 percent plus one majority in
the National Assembly in less than two month's time when it
was convenient for the RGC to do so for political purposes.
The local UN Human Rights Office notes that even if the law
establishing a national human rights commission is enacted,
such a body cannot fulfill its mandate in a vacuum; other
institutions and laws must exist and the weakness of the
Cambodian government is an impediment. We worry too, that
the PM wants to establish a national commission to bolster
his argument that the UN Human Rights Office should be
closed. End Comment.


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