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Human Rights Day

By: Norbert Klein Posted: December-13-2010 in
Norbert Klein

The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 694

To commemorate the International Human Rights Day means to refer to the document which has achieved the widest public standing in the whole world: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This document was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948, as a common basis for all peoples and for all member governments. This happened for the first time in history that such an effort was made: to define the rights for every person irrespective of culture, gender, or religion. The Universal

Declaration of Human Rights has been translated by now into 375 different languages, available on a UN web site, and the United Nations encourage that the text is made available and easily accessible in every member country of the United Nations. A Khmer version, as a PDF file, can be downloaded here.

The International Bill of Human Rights consists of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its two Optional Protocols.

Human Rights, as described in these documents, are also current law in Cambodia. Article 31 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia includes a reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a document recognized and respected in the Kingdom of Cambodia.

In addition to these universal aspects, there is every year, for the Human Rights Day, also a special emphasis: “Criticism is not a crime,” declared the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navi Pillay for 2010.

Criticism is not a crime: Human Rights Day 2010

“Despite grave risks, human rights defenders everywhere continue to champion the vision of the Universal Declaration through their ideas and deeds. They know that silence and inaction embolden those who violate human rights.” In her speech to a special Human Rights Day event in Geneva UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms. Navi Pillay focused on the work of human rights defenders and the groups of people who require special efforts in the safeguarding of their rights.

The focus of Human Rights Day 2010 is human rights defenders who act to end discrimination Ms. Pillay acknowledged the famous defenders, those who have become “icons”. Others, she said, “may be less famous but are not less determined and courageous.”…

In both her speech and statement for 10 December 2010 Ms. Pillay singled out a number of groups for special focus – groups who through force of circumstance find themselves particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse with little or no chance of redress.

The High Commissioner pointed to the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples many of whom “are considered unwanted guests in their own ancestral lands”; the 200 million migrants world-wide, especially those who are undocumented and irregular who face chronic forms of discrimination; and half of the worlds population, women, who in many places still do not receive equal pay for equal work and whose rights generally continue to be restricted.

Ms. Pillay spoke of the necessity to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals through legislative reform and education initiatives; of the stigma, neglect and abuse directed against the elderly; and of the prejudice and resistance faced by persons with disabilities as they struggled to affirm their rights.

The High Commissioner called on Governments “to acknowledge that criticism is not a crime, and to release all those people who have been detained for peacefully exercising their fundamental freedoms to defend democratic principles and human rights.”

This special concern for persons who act as human rights defenders responds also to tensions in the very same field in Cambodia.

On the occasion of the International Human Rights Day, the Human Rights Organization LICADHO released a statement, pointing to nine articles in the Cambodian Penal Code which might lead easily to the suppression of the freedom of expression, which is guaranteed in the Constitution. The new Penal Code comes into force on Saturday, 12.12.2010.

Provisions that are considered to be problematic by some persons regularly involved in human rights activities, present the following concerns:

  • The new code makes it a crime to criticize judges or ‘disturb public order’ by questioning court decisions.
  • It is a crime to publish comments intended to influence a court.
  • Defamation is not decriminalized; this may lead to silence peaceful critics and suppress the freedom of speech.
  • Acts directed at a public official that affects the “dignity of a person” could be punished; this might be interpreted to “criminalize” all acts that hurt the feelings of public officials.

The spokesperson of the Council of Misters rejected such concerns, but suggested instead: “If the NGOs say that an article of the criminal code affects the rights of the people, they should not make waves but they should file a complaint with the proper institutions to get an amendment.”

But if NGOs might publish concerns about the violation of rights, trying to call for justice – they may be the first to be criminalized for their intent to influence the court.

While present public debate in this field is often focused on legal definitions and legal text, it should be remembered that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights starts by using much more sensitive language, saying that to recognize the inherent dignity of all members of the human race is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

The Mirror had referred yesterday to the Global Corruption Barometer. It showed that the people in Cambodia, who had been interviewed for the Global Corruption Barometer, had the least favorable opinion about the judiciary. It will be a difficult way from the public perception revealed in that document, to replace this mistrust with the notion that the courts are the place where legal struggles can be resolved so that human dignity is upheld.

Norbert KLEIN

This article was first published by The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 694 – Friday, 10.12.2010
Have a look at the last editorial - you can access it directly from the main page of The Mirror.

Norbert Klein is the Editor of The Mirror – The Mirror is a daily comprehensive summary and translation of the major Khmer language press - More about The Mirror

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