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“Guided by the… Good Faith in the Fulfillment of the Obligations Assumed by States”

By: Norbert Klein Posted: December-17-2010 in
Norbert Klein

The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 695

Having considered, in The Mirror, last week two special days of commemoration designed by the United Nations, the International Anti-Corruption Day and the Human Rights Day, we will consider today another cluster of UN Conventions, Declarations, and Days of Commemoration. This is not just to always follow such events according to the calendar. There is a very special reason to look into this context because a number of people from a mountain minority, at present under UN protection in Cambodia, are facing the danger of being pushed out of the country.

These people belong to ethnic minorities in Vietnam – the United Nations, that is its member states, has issued in 2007 the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, stating also initially why such a Declaration was considered to be important. Also the Cambodian representative voted for the resolution to adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. Like in many similar cases, it is an act of protection:

The UN General Assembly, Guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and good faith in the fulfillment of the obligations assumed by States in accordance with the Charter,

  • Affirming that indigenous peoples are equal to all other peoples, while recognizing the right of all peoples to be different, to consider themselves different, and to be respected as such
  • Affirming also that all peoples contribute to the diversity and richness of civilizations and cultures, which constitute the common heritage of humankind,
  • Affirming further that all doctrines, policies and practices based on or advocating superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin or racial, religious, ethnic or cultural differences are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust,
  • Reaffirming that indigenous peoples, in the exercise of their rights, should be free from discrimination of any kind.

But there was even concern that some special groups might need special attention: indigenous peoples and other minorities living in mountain areas. The related UN web page says:

Mountain Day 11 December: Mountain Minorities and Indigenous Peoples”

The purpose is to highlight the threats faced by these communities but also to acknowledge the invaluable contribution they can make towards overcoming the global challenges of hunger and malnutrition, biodiversity loss and climate change.

In September 2007, the UN General Assembly adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, marking an important step in international efforts to preserve the identity of indigenous peoples and address the discrimination and hardships they face. A majority of the world’s indigenous people live in mountain regions, and many live on the margins of society and face poverty and chronic food insecurity

The 76 people who fled from the Central Highlands of Vietnam to Cambodia, now in a UN refugee center in Cambodia, belong to the type of people described so far: not strong because of belonging to ethnic minorities anyway, ad in addition coming from minorities living in the mountainous Central Highlands of Vietnam – geographically removed from the regions where ethnic Vietnamese people live – and also culturally different, having their own languages; many of them belong to Christian communities and they claim to have suffered additional discrimination and pressure.

But they are covered by an additional layer of UN protection as refugees.

The UN Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, ratified by Cambodia in 1992, defines how the documents define the status of refugee, and contain an Article 33, about which the introduction says:

Certain provisions of the Convention are considered so fundamental that no reservations may be made to them. These include the definition of the term “refugee,” and the so-called principle of non-refoulement, i.e. that no Contracting State shall expel or return (“re fouler”) a refugee, against his or
her will, in any manner whatsoever, to a territory where he or she fears persecution.

And Article 33 itself says:

No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

But only now a letter from the Cambodian government, from 29 November 2010, became public, ordering the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to close the refugee center by 1 January 2011. Those who have not yet received refugee status would be deported back to Vietnam.

Though such a “befouling” against the Article 33 above – if it were carried out – would not be the first case in Cambodia: in 2005, many Montagnards were sent back to Vietnam, and in December 2009, 20 Uighurs were handed over to Chinese authorities and were flown out of the country before the UN agencies could establish their status as refugees. Such refugee centers were established in 1992, when a large group of Montagnards was discovered in the province of Mondolkiri – 398 received later residence status in the USA, where they started a Montagnard community in North Carolina/USA. But later, more than 1,000 persons passed through the centers in Cambodia.

Asked for the reason why the UN Refugee Center should be closed, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Koy Kuong, gave a not very plausible reason: “We want to close it down because it has been long enough.”

And Mr. Le Minh Ngoc, the spokesperson of the Vietnamese embassy in Phnom Penh told the Cambodia Daily that he was too busy (to fulfill his task as a spokesperson and) to comment on the Cambodian government’s decision.

Norbert KLEIN

This article was first published by The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 695 – Thursday, 16.12.2010
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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