Friday, January 20, 2006

Doubts Raised Over Standards of KR Tribunal

The Cambodia Daily

Friday, January 20, 2006

Lee Berthiaume

New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch has questioned whether the long-awaited Khmer Rouge tribunal will meet international standards, given a series of what it called government-influenced “political trials” during 2005.

In its annual report, Human Rights Watch said such trials have demonstrated the government’s ongoing control, interference and intimidation regarding the courts.

“It became increasingly doubtful that a [Khmer Rouge] tribunal established within the Cambodian court system would ensure fair and impartial trials,” the report stated.

The concerns were only one aspect of the report, which described 2005 as a year that saw “a sharp reversal in progress Cambodia had made in observing human rights and developing political pluralism.”

Helen Jarvis, adviser to the government’s Khmer Rouge tribunal taskforce, acknowledged at a public awareness event about the trial that there have been concerns expressed over whether it will meet international standards.

“The weaknesses of the judiciary has been acknowledged by the government,” Jarvis said. “But I am confident that in the list of judges…the requisite number of qualified people can be found.”

Om Yentieng, head of the government’s human rights committee, did not answer phone calls or respond to e-mailed queries about the report on Thursday, while government spokesman Khieu Kanharith could not be contacted.

The report accused Prime Minister Hun Sen of silencing dissent and said international donors were “offering little tangible influence on human rights issues” by continuing to provide aid to the government.

Government officials, police and the military were accused of profiting from the trafficking of women and children in the report, while police were accused of using torture and excessive force.

“The Cambodian government has failed to prosecute perpetrators of a December 2004 attack on a safe house operated by the NGO Afesip, in which more than 80 trafficking victims were abducted,” the report added.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said he had not seen the report but said officers involved in trafficking are being dealt with and torture is not authorized by the government.

“The Ministry of Interior has never issued any instructions to use torture against people,” he said. “We will take action if we receive any complaints.”

The report also said land conflicts are increasing the potential for social unrest.

It raised concerns over forestry NGO Global Witness’s departure from the country, the Cambodian Bar Association presidential dispute and the treatment of Montagnard asylum-seekers. “Provincial authorities continue to forcibly return Montagnard asylum-seekers to Vietnam,” the report said. “Officials harassed and threatened to arrest Cambodian villagers suspected of providing food or assistance to asylum-seekers who were not yet under the protection of UNHCR [UN High Commissioner for Refugees],” it added.

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