Thursday, June 20, 2013

Illegal letter issued by Ratanakiri provincial hall to ban people to attend NGOs' events within its province

Geography of Ratanakiri province 
Ratanakiri province located in the remote northeast. It borders the provinces of Mondulkiri to the south and Stung Treng to the west and the countries of Laos and Vietnam to the north and east, respectively. The province extends from the mountains of the Annamite Range in the north, across a hilly plateau between the Tonle Sesan and Tonle Srepok rivers, to tropical deciduous forests in the south. In recent years, logging and mining have scarred Ratanakiri's environment, long known for its beauty.

For over a millennium, Ratanakiri has been occupied by the highland Khmer Loeu people, who are a minority elsewhere in Cambodia. During the region's early history, its Khmer Loeu inhabitants were exploited as slaves by neighboring empires. The slave trade economy ended during the French colonial era, but a harsh Khmerization campaign after Cambodia's independence again threatened Khmer Loeu ways of life. The Khmer Rouge built its headquarters in the province in the 1960s, and bombing during the Vietnam War devastated the region. Today, rapid development in the province is altering traditional ways of life.

The Legal Issue within this province 
Regarding human rights aspect within this province, it’s recorded that most cases are related to land issues and human rights defenders were faced many problem with local authority. Last few years, ADHOC and CCHR staff was charged on incitement by the powerful persons.

Recently, on June 13, 2013 Ratanakiri provincial hall issued a letter (it’s not named the tile of letter) to inform the chairman and president of NGOs locates within their provincial boundary that the provincial hall WILL NOT allow to invite any level of local authorities from town, district, commune, village and normal villagers to attend any organizations’ event on WORKSHOP, MEETING AND STUDY TOUR because in order for local authority have enough times to manage their jobs and let people to get opportunities to use their political rights. This letter banned people NGOs to conduct any event from June 27, 2013 to July 26, 2013 because it’s time for election campaign. The letter doesn't provide any legal reference. It’s indicated the National Election Committee’s calendar which determine the time for all political parties to conduct election campaign from June 27, 2013 to July 26, 2013.

This letter is considered as unconstitutional because it’s violated article 41 “Khmer citizens shall have freedom of expression, press, publication and assembly. No one shall exercise this right to infringe upon the rights of others, to effect the good traditions of the society, to violate public law and order and national security. Is time to ban people’s rights for election campaign? No, the election time is a great time for people to understand all matters happen in their country therefore they are easy to decide in which political party they should vote for. In order to reach people’s feeling, NGOs can organize any meeting to coach them on how to vote for. NGOs can explain people are not to fear someone threats them. Why Ratanakiri provincial hall issue to ban this activities?

Do authorities understand the rights to participate in political party? Do people have rights to attend any events in the country?

We don’t accuse Ratanakiri provincial official who lack capacity to understand the concept of political rights or else but they should at least before issuing the letter, reading the existing regulations and laws whether they do rights or wrong.

The below is the legal analysis regarding this letter:

Local Instrument:
Cambodian Constitution: Article 31 of Cambodian Constitution stipulates that the Kingdom of Cambodia shall recognize and respect human rights as stipulated in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human rights, the covenants and conventions related to human rights, and women's and children's rights.

Khmer citizens shall have freedom of assembly[1] and have the right to establish associations and political parties... Khmer citizens may take part in mass organizations for mutual benefit to protect national achievement and social order[2].

As it’s mentioned above, the constitution doesn't ban any activities of NGOs or people to participate in order to develop the country. Article 35 states clearly “Khmer citizens of either sex shall have the right to participate actively in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the nation. Any suggestions from the people shall be given full consideration by the grant of the State.”.

Election Law in 1997: it doesn’t have any article to ban people to attend NGOs’ events during the election campaign. 

In accordance with this provision, the 1993 Constitution of Kingdom of Cambodia includes a declaration of fundamental rights in Chapter III: The rights and obligation of Citizens of Cambodia, Certain other provisions of the Constitution are also relevant to the protection of human rights[3].

International instruments:
Cambodia ratified and became members of many international legal instruments. Those are included Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles; Rights at Work and United Nations Millennium Declaration…..

UDHR[4] was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 after the end of the Second World War as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. Apart from core civil society rights to express associate and assemble, the UDHR assures fundamental human rights to all people- both civil and political as well as Economic, Social, and Cultural. The UDHR is the source from which various human rights treaties and instruments have been developed. Although conceived as a Declaration as opposed to a treaty, today, the UDHR is widely regarded as a part of international customary law.
Right to form and join association: Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. No one may be compelled to belong to an association[5]. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests[6].

ICCPR[7] is the key international treaty enshrining civil and political rights. It addresses the State’s traditional responsibilities for administering justice and maintaining the rule of law. 
Article 19  (Freedom of Expression):
1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
Article 22 (Freedom of Assembly):
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (order public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Article 22 (Freedom of Association):
1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
2. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those which are prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on members of the armed forces and of the police in their exercise of this right.
Article 25 (Citizen Participation): Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions:

ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work[8]: The ILO Declaration commits Member States to respect and promote principles and rights in four categories, whether or not they have ratified the relevant Conventions. These categories are: freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of forced or compulsory labor, the abolition of child labor, and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

Article 2 (Freedom of Association):  [The International Labor Conference] Declares that all Members, even if they have not ratified the Conventions in question, have an obligation arising from the very fact of membership in the Organization to respect, to promote and to realize, in good faith and in accordance with the Constitution, the principles concerning the fundamental rights which are the subject of those Conventions, namely:
(a) freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
(b) the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labor;
 (c) the effective abolition of child labor; and
(d) the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

This letter is illegal therefore the NGOs or interesting people should file complaint to court to nullify it because it might lead Ratanakiri province uses its rights beyond the law said.
Please read the letter as below:

[1] Article 41, Cambodian Constitution.
[2] Article 42, Cambodian Constitution.
[3] OHCHR, Cambodia country office, (2008), Cambodian Human Rights Law, p. IV
[4]See Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations Staff College Project, Human Rights: A basic handbook for UN staff, United Nations, 2000, p.11.
Available at
[5] Article 19, UDHR.
[6] Article 23-4, UDHR.
[8]International Labor Organization:
•Standards and Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work: index.htm

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