Featured Post

"Smarter Aid, not more Aid!"

UK: Should Human Rights Matter More than Trade?

A still from this video capturing the live-fire shooting by Cambodian Security Forces on demonstrators. GR or GRK as worn on uniforms is the acronym for Royal Gendarmerie. You can see a report by VoA.  VoA broadcasts to the domestic audiences have been curtailed  because  many independent radio stations have been forced to cease airing in 2017.

In July 2005 armed police killed a young unarmed Brazilian outside Stockwell train station in London.

In January 2014 armed military police killed 4 o 5 young unarmed Cambodians near a factory in VengSreng Street, Phnom Penh. The whereabouts to this day of one person there Khem Sophath is unknown and therefore regarded as an "enforced disappearance."

The London tragedy led to several investigations, the standard type of enquiry by the Coroner required in the UK after a sudden death and two special ones to assess the appropriateness of the Police actions.  The story and aftermath was well-covered by media, including conclusions that commanding officers were at fault. The case was considered by several courts and compensation was paid to the victim’s family. Questions were asked in the UK Parliament.  Lessons were learned even if inevitably some residual doubts remain to this day about the tragedy.

The Cambodian tragedy led to one investigation by the Ministry of Interior and a single report that concluded the killings were “not the fault of the heavily-armed military police” but “illegal demonstrations led by the [Opposition] Cambodia National Rescue Party a premeditated, provocative act intended to topple the legal government by inciting anarchy, violence and clashes with competent authorities”.  The committee met in secret with no appeals.  No evidence was released indicating that any of the 5 killed had directly confronted the armed military police in a crowd apparently throwing stones at them. The Gendarmerie resorted to live-fire in response. The only court action was against 13 unionists and workers convicted of intentional violence and causing property damage” on the same day. The body of one of the five killed has never been found.

Domestic and international human rights organisations including the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights called for more investigation in the interests of justice and to deter impunity. Their calls and those of the victims of families have never been heeded.

Cambodia has similar Police arrangements to France with two operational forces; a National Police and a Gendarmerie with military and judicial police functions. The Gendarmerie is part of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. The National Police are under the Ministry of Interior but often work together on domestic operations as do the armed forces. (They should only be deployed in declared national emergencies.)  Today both police forces remain under the same commanding officers.

The United Kingdom since 2014 has continued to cultivate good relations with Cambodia with a heavy emphasis on promoting trade, even often dispatching special trade envoy Lord David Puttnam to help it to re-brand its image from its conflict-ridden past.  Cambodia is lined up to be one of the first to agree to a post-BREXIT trade deal. One senior Foreign Office official has confirmed that “Human rights are no longer a top priority.”

Since the 2014 Cambodian tragedy, no more worker or political demonstrations have been brooked; the rights of trade unions and civil society have been severely curtailed by legislation, and the Opposition CNRP party has been dissolved despite gaining 46% of the vote in elections this year.

Surely the United Kingdom, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, needs to be more than “dismayed” about Cambodia?  Should it not give a lead to the world and insist that human rights really do matter more than trade?  After all aren’t human rights supposed to be “inviolable”?

John Lowrie is a human resources officer by profession. He has been an aid and development worker since 1985, working in five developing countries, and Cambodia since 1998 where he has been country representative of three international NGOs and formal adviser to seven local development and human rights organizations.

Please go to this report for the heartfelt pleas of the family of the missing boy four years on:


What I thought was one of our most inspiring achievements in 2013 was to secure funding that equipped for the first time Human Rights Defenders with Smartphones. This enabled them not only to communicate better with each other but by video-capture to document irrefutable evidence of human rights violations. Some of these phones may have been used to capture the scenes on Veng Sreng Street. This achievement was thwarted as authorities later kitted out security officials in unmarked uniforms and black-visored helmets to avoid recognition, probably because the Gendarmes in Veng Sreng Street were clearly identified and someone must have given them orders and permission to use live ammunition.  The new policy of deploying unmarked “district guards” does not conform to international standards where agents of the state are supposed to be clearly identifiable for accountability purposes. 

No comments:

Post a Comment