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UN says Corruption in Cambodia Hinders Progress

  • Lisa Schlein

A U.N. human rights expert says rampant corruption in Cambodia is hindering the country's progress toward democracy and economic development. In a report submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva, the expert says problems of impunity have become systemic to the detriment of the society.

U.N. human-rights expert Peter Leuprecht says his last visit to Cambodia in November left him more pessimistic than ever about the future of the country.

He says the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen seems to be increasingly autocratic and is concentrating power behind what he calls a shaky facade of democracy.

Mr. Leuprecht calls impunity a "gangrene" that undermines the fabric of Cambodian society. He says the necessary mechanisms for accountability are not in place.

"The judiciary is very weak," he said. "There is no separation of powers in Cambodia, and the rule of law, also in this respect, is elusive. Now, among many other things, impunity fosters corruption, which is endemic in Cambodia. It is everywhere, at all levels."

Mr. Leuprecht is very critical of Cambodia's system of forestry and land concessions.

He says granting concessions often involves large kickbacks. He says the system has led to human-rights violations, while neither the people nor the state has benefited from the concessions.

The human-rights expert says the companies, often foreign, are only interested in timber and this has led to the rapid destruction of forests, with far-reaching ecological consequences.

Mr. Leuprecht says he is concerned about restrictions on freedom of assembly and association. He says he has documented a system of intimidation and threats.

"I think if somebody denounced cases of corruption by high-placed people, probably he or she would run into trouble," he said. "There is still, and, regrettably, a very high degree of violence, also connected with impunity. You know, these contract-style killings. Quite a lot of these have happened. There have been quite severe measures, quite brutal measures against people, who protest peacefully, for example, against the concession system."

Mr. Leuprecht says there is hope that trials of people accused of mass murder under the Khmer Rouge will begin toward the end of this year, or early next year. He calls this one of the few positive developments he has seen in the country. Although he does not view the tribunal as ideal, he says it could have a good effect on the administration of justice in Cambodia.

He says the head of Cambodia's Human Rights Committee, who has read his report, has commented that the information contained within is not based on facts.