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Piracy, Universal Jurisdiction, and Domestic Law in the United States

Andrew Higdon, One Earth Future Foundation. Broomfield, Colorado, USA.

2013 Andrew Hidgon 100x150On November 7, 2008 the Bahamian flagged cargo ship CEC Future was attacked by Somali pirates on the high seas in the Gulf of Aden. The attackers, armed with AK-47s and rocket propelled grenades, fired shots and boarded the ship. The ship and her crew (eleven Russians, one Georgian and one Estonian) were released a month later when the Dutch ship owners paid a $1.7 million USD ransom. In order to negotiate with the outside world, the pirates employed Ali Muhammad Ali who acted as a facilitator and interpreter onboard the ship.  Ali made $16 500 USD from his cut of the ransom, and negotiated an additional $75 000 USD from the ship owners for coordinating the release – all without leaving Somali territorial waters for any significant length of time.

In addition to being a pirate negotiator, Ali also served as the Director General of the Ministry of Education of Somaliland – a fact that neatly conveys at the scale of the problems facing Somalia. US prosecutors used his position to lure him into the US by inviting him to a fake education conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. Upon arrival he was immediately arrested and charged under US piracy and hostage taking laws. How could the US claim jurisdiction over a non-national who committed a crime in another country against a ship sailed and owned by foreign nationals?

Under international law, states must have jurisdiction over the person and the offence in order to affect a legitimate prosecution. In the case of piracy, nations rely on customary international law and the UN Convention on the law of the Sea (UNCLOS 1982) to ground their jurisdiction. Unique among crimes, piracy has long been treated as an offense that any nation can prosecute. Unlike other theories of jurisdiction (such as “the territoriality principle” which gives states jurisdiction over events that take place within their territory,  or “the nationality principle” with gives states jurisdiction over actions committed by a their nationals) piracy is a crime that requires no nexus for a state to properly assert jurisdiction. Basically, any state that finds a pirate on the high seas can prosecute him. Traditionally, this unique jurisdictional aspect of piracy has been viewed as a consequence of the fact that pirates committed their crimes on the high seas, outside of anyone’s jurisdiction, and against the international community at large.

But Ali hadn’t operated on the high seas; he had helped facilitate piracy from Somali territory. The prosecutors charged Ali under 18 U.S.C. § 1651 – the US law that prohibits piracy – which states that individuals commit an offence where they commit piracy as defined by international law. This meant that the court had to examine the provisions of UNCLOS. Despite a long history of academics and law makers articulating the belief that piracy was something that could only occur on the high seas, the court took the opposite view. Brown J. ruled that since the sub article criminalizing the facilitation of piracy did not explicitly mention a high seas requirement (while other articles did) this indicated that no high seas requirement existed. While the position is defensible, it does suggest a challenge to the accepted order of jurisdiction.

It is highly unusual for a state to claim jurisdiction over the actions of a foreign national who committed a crime within the territory of his own nation, and where there is no other nexus with the prosecuting state. This is predicated on the understanding in international law that states will not interfere with the internal affairs of others. With this ruling, the US appears to be signalling its willingness to do so in certain situations. Perhaps the court decided as it did because of the fact that in Somalia there is little chance that men like Ali will ever see a courtroom. It seems unlikely that they would have decided the same way in a case that concerned a more developed nation. In any event, it illustrates the seriousness with which US prosecutors regard international crime and their comfort with dealing with it domestically. It is something that I think we should watch carefully.

How Indian Law Produces Statelessness

While at the Calcutta Research Group, one of my tasks has been to look into the legal aspects of statelessness in India to compliment the extensive archival and field work conducted by the CRG over the last three years in mapping the statelessness situation in India. In my research, I learned that India has numerous legal provisions with actively produce statelessness.

Wait a minute, what’s statelessness again?

Article 1 of the 1954 Statelessness Convention, a stateless person is one “who is not considered a national by any State under the operation of its law.”  Since that definition is now widely understood to be customary international law, meaning it should be applied by all states including those not party to the convention and Article 51(c) of the Indian Constitution provides that India “shall endeavour to foster respect for international law and treaty obligations in the dealings of organized peoples with another,” it follows that, regardless of whether or not the state accedes to either statelessness convention, this definition of statelessness carries the weight of law in India.

So, those who do not have a legal bond with any state are unambiguously de jure stateless. When this narrow definition is applied, however, it usually only covers those who are not automatically granted nationality at birth by the application of state legal instruments, those without nationality who are unable to obtain it through establish legal provision for its acquisition, and those whose nationality is revoked or terminated for any reasons and who do not have a second nationality.  Indeed, the 1954 Statelessness Convention definition precludes those with a legal bond with a state without ensuring that that bond carries with it particular rights, entitlements, or guarantees.  Because there is no universal standard for citizenship or nationality and because discriminatory laws, policies, and practices can mean that citizenship is experienced unequally between those citizens of the same state, it is possible for those with citizenship to experience it in such an ineffective manner that their experience mirror that of those who are de jure stateless.

The term de facto stateless, therefore, exists to describe the position of those who fall within the large range of people whose lived experiences are essentially of statelessness, but who do not form a part of the smaller group of people able to satisfy the de jure  definition.  While the term carries no legal definition and there is no clear consensus about its meaning in the literature, the term is generally used to refer to those who are unable to disprove the assumption that they have a nationality and those whose legal bonds of nationality is ineffective.

Isn’t that a bit restrictive?

Yes, I think so.  This definition rests on an assumed binary opposition of the citizen or national against the stateless person, which fails to account for the complexity of lived realities. In practice, many stateless people are unable to have their status recognized as such and legal bonds of citizenship are not always effective. States generally operate with a presumption of nationality, which makes it impossible for those whose nationality is unknown, but who have not been found to have established that they are without nationality to access protection as stateless people. Additionally, many states have demonstrated reluctance to classify certain people as stateless and others do not recognize the stateless status of those whose citizenship they have denied.  Matters are substantially complicated when the effectiveness of a person’s nationality are considered.

Ok, so how is it that Indian law produces statelessness?

A number of explicit provisions in the Citizenship Act of India, 1955 provide legal means by which a person in possession of Indian citizenship may lose that legal bond. First, renunciation (under section 8) entitles Indian citizens to renounce their citizenship even if by doing so, they would become de jure stateless and can deprive children of their Indian citizenship on the basis of their father’s actions in such a way that may leave them stateless until they reach the mandated age to resume their Indian citizenship by declaration. Second, termination (under section 9) leaves open the possibility that those whose citizenship is terminated end up de facto statelessness, because there is no guarantee that the non-Indian citizenship that has been voluntary acquired is an effective one. Finally, deprivation (under section 10), in no uncertain terms, provides for creates statelessness by prescribing it as punishment for certain action and inaction.

So, what’s to be done?

Simply put, India must stop legally sanctioning the production of statelessness. It should revise its citizenship laws such that citizenship cannot be revoked from those who would be rendered stateless by such an act.  It must, however, be remember that addressing statelessness in India, like elsewhere in the world, is not merely a legal question. The existence of effective rights and entitlements goes much beyond the courtroom to the political arena and socio-cultural milieu.

Ghana’s electoral drama: the 2012 Election Petition

2013 Angela Slater 100x150Despite a tumultuous political history, including several military dictatorships, Ghana has reached a period of peace. Despite a fall from previous years, Ghana was ranked as the 58th most peaceful country in the world, ahead of the U.S at 99th and South Africa at 121.[1] Ghanaians are proud of the peace in their country, and most people seem committed to keeping it that way. One symbol of this commitment to peace is Ghana’s most recent constitution, enacted in 1992. Considering Ghana’s chequered political history, the current constitution is a symbol of endurance. Unlike Ghana’s other constitutions it has weathered the rise and fall of four democratically elected governments.[2] Like Canada, Ghana’s constitution entrenched a number of civil, political and human rights. These may be enforced by a special tribunal for human rights, the High Court, or the Supreme Court. Despite this similarity, many parts of the constitution are under litigated by Canadian standards. There are many reasons for this, but part of it has to do with the reluctance to accept judicial review as a legitimate interference in an already tense political process, as well as a widespread concern at confronting the government in an adversarial court battle.[3]

Given this backdrop, a case before the Supreme Court has caught the attention of the whole country. Ghana’s opposition has brought an action before the Supreme Court claiming widespread election malpractice and fraud. Election malpractice has always been a concern in Ghana. During the elections last year Ghana even had extra power shipped in from Nigeria to ensure that the lights stayed on during the electoral period. Unfortunately this wasn’t enough to prevent criticism of the elections. The 2012 Election Petition has now been before the court for over a month, and it is difficult to go anywhere without hearing a radio blaring something about the ‘pink sheets’. Pink sheets are missing!! Pink sheets have irregularities!! Pink sheets are unreadable!! The list goes on. Such a context is ripe for courtroom drama, and there has been plenty of that. Two people have even been thrown in jail for criminal contempt of court. One journalist was jailed for ten days after he called the Supreme Court Justices “hypocritical” in an editorial that appeared in a local newspaper.[4] More humorously recent testimony indicated that a polling officer wrote twenty seven zero instead of two hundred seventy on one of the pink sheets.[5] Throw in a romantic sub-plot and the election petition has all the makings of John Grisham style courtroom thriller.

But among all the drama, a very important legal and political question is at stake. Can Ghana handle the Supreme Court batting down election results and potentially deposing the current administration? Are Ghanaians able to accept the consequences of the judicial review entrenched in their constitution? This is the question that keeps Ghanaians up at night, and it is the reason you can’t go anywhere without hearing about those pink sheets. The concern is legitimate. One of those jailed for contempt of court was a member of the incumbent party who threatened violence if his party was deposed by the court decision. Although he later apologized, his threat plays on the fears of many Ghanaians who know all too well what it means to live under threat of war.

The trial is now coming to a close, and soon Ghana will have to live with the results of one of the biggest legal decisions this country has ever seen. In making its decision, the court has three options: to uphold the election results, call a new election, or award the election victory to the opposing party. A bad decision could spell trouble for the peace Ghana has worked so hard to enjoy. A good decision could be a landmark case that would change landscape for judicial review in Ghana. Despite the beating of war drums and the court room drama, I think that Ghana will weather the election petition. Faith in the court system is at the heart of a constitution which requires judicial review to answer controversial questions. As a Canadian I understand the type of faith required to trust the court to review contentious legislation and administrative actions. Although Ghana is a wildly different place, I think that Ghanaians ultimately have faith in their courts and the democracy they have worked so hard to build. I hope that their faith is justified when the court turns out their decision in the coming weeks.


[1] Institute for Economics and Peace, 2013 Global Peace Index Report (2013) http://www.dailyguideghana.com/?p=87879.

[2] Kofi Kumando & S.O. Gyandoh Jr., Sourcebook of the Constitutional Law of Ghana 2nd ed v.1 pt 1 (Accra: Black Mask Publishing, 2009) at vi.

[3] Peter Atudiwe Atupare, “Legitimacy, Judicial Review and Human Rights Enforcement in Ghana”, (2005-2007) 23 University of Ghana Law Journal 228.

[4]William Yaw Owusu & Nii Ogbamey Tetteh,  “2 Jailed for Contempt”, Daily Guide Ghana, (July 3 2013),  http://www.dailyguideghana.com/?p=87879.

[5]  William Yaw Owusu & Nii Ogbamey Tetteh, “My Boys Did a Bad Job”, Daily Guide Ghana (July 9 2013) http://www.dailyguideghana.com/?p=88449.

Soit la folie, soit la femme décède

The first two weeks of my internship revolved around preparing a proposal for UN Women and working along with the CONGEH team for the organisation of an advocacy workshop aimed at raising awareness amidst institutional actors. CONGEH is a conglomerate of smaller NGOs that work under the platform of gender – habitat – HIV/AIDS. Its specific goals makes CONGEH not only a network of NGOs with an interesting view but also endows it with the daunting, yet successfully accomplished task of answering all the questions with a high degree of hands-on knowledge, specificity and accuracy.

The workshop was focused not only on raising awareness, but also on obtaining a clear set of answers, recommendations and solutions with regards to the stigmatisation of women and the violation of their rights. Undoubtedly, the presence of representatives of different ministries was more than a prerequisite, while the presence of members of CONGEH and other NGOs was the trigger.

Regardless of the research I conducted and the statistics that I familiarized myself with during the preparation period, it was during the workshop where I quietly, mindfully and critically learned more than simple numbers or a list of well-known causes. The clash of customary and state law seems to favour the traditional views and practices of the Cameroonian communities. Chiefs of different under-developed areas of Yaoundé presented the reality of these customs: women are discriminated, widows can be accused of their husbands’ death and words such as property and succession are rarely, or almost never, associated with women. Yet, the favouring does not necessarily spur out of a preference for customary law. It is the lack of knowledge of their rights and, thus, their non-claiming that put women in such a precarious situation.

Now, of course, the conversation also took the direction of religion, as Cameroon is a country with a fear of God, regardless whether the God is catholic, orthodox, Muslim, etc. English and French are the official languages for the purpose of standardizing, but there are other 250 languages spoken in Cameroon. Cameroon is called Africa in Miniature not only for its landscape but also for its mix of cultures. We usually say there are as many opinions as there are men. This is true.

The law is meant to help bring about these changes in a uniform, healthy and non-violent way. The government is expected to successfully develop tools in order to encourage these changes. Everybody agreed that the law has been drafted in such a way as to encourage the promotion of equal rights of men and women. Yet, the participants strongly disagreed on what the government through its ministries and projects has done up until now and what tools they offer for these women. Lack of knowledge is prevalent in Cameroon. While I have not had the chance of leaving the heart of Yaoundé, members of other NGOs insisted on the lack of resources offered to these women. Women suffering of HIV/AIDS do not acknowledge and have no means of reaching the places where the government put in place special areas to help. Nonetheless, while these tools are thoughtful and meant to only do well, their application in real life situations has not been done effectively. Their translation into practice causes most of the problems and the dissatisfaction of the people is immense.

CONGEH has conducted its own study on 2000 women suffering of HIV/AIDS in the communities of Yaoundé and has observed that stigmatisation, lack of knowledge of their rights, violation of their rights to property, succession and housing, all lead to unsanitary life conditions as these women are abandoned, kicked out of their homes or left in unimaginable living conditions that do nothing but worsen their already weak situation. While infected men choose to abandon their homes, women are removed from the households and find themselves homeless or turn into squatters. Living a normal life while suffering of HIV/AIDS is no longer a dream, but it demands access to treatment, clean water and decent living conditions: the lack thereof leading to a fast deterioration of both their physical and mental health. The stigmatisation of those suffering of HIV/AIDS knows no gender discrimination, but the acute predisposition of women to being discriminated with regards to their rights to ownership leads to a casting aside with repercussions unbeknownst to our imagination.

Education of the society, modernisation and dismissal of the discriminating practices were in the minds and on the lips every workshop participant.  If modernisation is the goal, and the removal of discriminating practices is the beginning, how will that work? What does modernisation actually entail? What effect will it have on all the Cameroonian customs? As newer generations are born changes are brought. Yet, each community wants to maintain its culture, while some even refuse compromises. Of course, the removal of discriminating practices is ideal and it is suggested, but how fast will it be done? And, do fast solutions necessarily mean realistic measures?

As I am typing this blog entry at my desk, I realize it takes more than a workshop and an exchange of words to draw the real picture. These are numbers, opinions and well-known causes that have yet to been efficiently tackled. Modernisation is thrown around as a word that fills no gap, heals no wound and carries no weight. I look forward to the days where I will sit around the table facing the women we have been talking about. Their stories, their sorrows, their concerns will teach me even more than the intense debate did. And, hopefully, with time, madness or death will no longer exist as options.

What is access to justice when the legal and the political are tightly intertwined?

 By: Éloïse Ouellet-Décoste

When I was still in Cambodia, I was not sure how I could draw on my experience to discuss access to justice and  legal empowerment. With a partial judiciary controlled by the executive and no effective law enforcement, the  majority of Cambodians do not only feel disillusioned by formal institutions or distrust the legal system; they  fear the law.

With a bit of distance from the field, I now realize that I too quickly equated access to justice with courts. But  beyond the ability to use courts to further one’s interest or resolve conflicts, access to justice is ultimately about overcoming injustices. So how did the victims of human rights violations LICAHO works with understand justice?

In a country were injustices (forced eviction, land grabbing, extortion, exploitation etc) are widespread and often perpetrated by the authorities, justice means at the least respect for people’s basic rights. Cambodia’s law and its Constitution are quite progressive, especially if compared to other countries in the region. The problem is that the judiciary interprets very liberally the laws to suit the interests of those in power, while ignoring the rights drafted to protect the interests of the poor. For example, the 2001 Land Law comprises a series of provision protecting landowners from forced eviction, requiring compensation for expropriation for public interest purposes and provides for mechanisms to acquire property rights via non-violent occupation. But these provisions are not applied. Meanwhile, the penal provisions of the 2001 Land Law, notably illegal occupation of private property or destruction of private property, are repeatedly deployed against communities using non-violent resistances against land grabbing and/or forced evictions.

In such a context, legal empowerment is necessary in order for these communities to know the rights they have and understand the recourses that exist. But awareness to the law and to one’s rights has its limits. Reducing one’s understanding of legal empowerment and access to justice to the use of formal law and processes (as suggested by Eisenberg et al. in their study of litigation and well-being in India) is inevitably counter-productive, because it fails to take into account corruption and elite capture of state institutions. The danger of focusing on legal approaches is the depoliticization of social injustices. When there is no political will to strengthen legal institutions and uphold people’s rights, then the legal avenue soon comes to a dead end.

For example, during my internship, a community activist representing villagers in a land dispute was charged with incitement under the new Penal Code after filing a complaint against the corporation that was illegal clearing their farm lands. What can legal empowerment achieve when those who seek to defend their rights are meet with violence and threat perpetuated through the judiciary?

The partiality of the judicial system is a significant barrier to legal empowerment and access to justice, especially where the court system becomes a political tool for the government to pursue its agenda and repress opposition and human rights activism. In his article, Banik talks about the perception of legal empowerment as a zero-sum game. Redressing imbalances is often perceived as undermining the dominance of the elite. Perhaps it does not have to be so, but, in Cambodia, I definitively experienced this perception. The elites are pursuing a campaign to undermine the work of human rights defenders. By controlling mass media, the ruling party (in power for over 20 years now) actively seeks to maintain ignorance in the population. Human rights defenders presenting alternative narratives and highlighting the abuses perpetrated or concealed by the authorities are perceived as threats to the dominance of the elites. Consequently, the authorities not only violate human rights, but also actively go after those who seek to promote and protect them.

Therefore, citizens find themselves at the mercy of the justice system, rather than feeling that it is a viable avenue through which to claim their rights and resolve disputes. Faundez rejects the idea that poverty is the consequence of the absence of legal protective mechanisms. In a place like Cambodia, I do not think it is either realistic or desirable to expect that improving people’s knowledge of the law and strengthening the law and legal processes is sufficient to truly foster justice. Without tackling the structural causes of poverty and socio-economic disparity and fully taking into account prevailing political, social and economic conditions, I doubt social transformation can occur in places like Cambodia were corruption is endemic and political and economic power tightly intertwined. The legal cannot be addressed in isolation from the political. Consequently, legal approaches can only be an effective tool of social transformation if complemented by extralegal activism and self-help initiatives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Property Stories

From Edward Bechard-Torres

We had arrived at Minkoaméyos, a small town straddling a main road just beyond the outskirts of Yaoundé, when a colleague of mine recited that worn fetish: “Work in the field is always more complicated: you learn how all those laws you’ve been reading about translate into practice”.

My colleagues were making rounds in the village to houses that had been designated by a UK-based NGO to be demolished and re-built according to a model designed to curb the incidence of malaria in children. I was to piggyback onto these visits to interview residents on the methods by which they came to access their plots of land.

There was always going to be more to property law than what was provided for in the medley of inherited laws and local ordinances. Our visit that day underscored the role property law may play in the construction of identities and of perceived communities.  More precisely, in Minkoaméyos, property rules almost certainly help cement perceived differences between the locals – les autochtones – and the non-locals – les allogènes. To explain, not every Cameroonian possesses a right to title any bit of land. The right to undergo the titling process on a specific plot of land flows from a certificate of traditional occupancy, a document that, in essence, certifies that one’s “ancestors” occupied a given plot of land. It is hard to imagine any world where one’s ancestors continually occupied a single plot of land, but that is the only story these certificates permit.

If a “foreigner” intends to acquire titled property, he would have to either purchase that certificate of occupancy and undertake the titling process himself, or he would otherwise have to wait for a “local” to title the plot and then purchase the titled land. In Cameroon’s urban centres, I have been told, most of the land occupied has been purchased, even if in an informal sense; few plots are still held by the original occupying family. The widespread absence of original occupants signals an aggregate shift of property holdings away from a less-efficient allocation, based on a families’ historic occupancy, to a more efficient one that privileges those who stand to benefit most from close proximity to urban markets.

In Yaoundé’s satellite villages, however, the property holders’ composition is mixed. In some villages, the difference between the autochtones and the allogènes is stark. In these places, the allogènes may be wealthier, mostly holding employment in Yaoundé, and take advantage of the relatively inexpensive cost of land to build gated dwarf mansions, which stand in stark contrast to the mud-based housing of the indigenous. In Minkoaméyos, the separation is invisible; the “foreigners” are residents drawn from the surrounding region who mostly hope to gain employment at the budding water treatment facility within the town’s limits. The “foreigners” do not appear to be any wealthier. They are culturally similar and occupy by and large similar houses to their “indigenous” neighbours.

And yet those differences, traceable to property law, may have generated a sense of group identity, with an accompanying sense of solidarity between imagined kin. The end of my day had me sitting under a large aluminium sheet that shelters a family’s supply of wood. The family’s eldest sister they are allogène – informed me that les indigènes often “sell” the same piece of land to multiple buyers. To avoid being defrauded, incoming families often have to signal to other prospective buyers that that portion of the property has been “purchased”. I have seen walls of houses, for instance, that have been inscribed with the forbidding “DO NOT BE MISTAKEN, THIS HOUSE AND LOT HAVE ALREADY BEEN SOLD”. Her family had bought a virgin plot, and to evidence their occupation they decided to immediately erect an improvised residence. That need to construct has imposed a double cost – the family lives in an unstable house that imperils the health of its residence, while its construction diverted needed savings away from the mother’s project to build a more durable, adequate familial home. The vendors have stumbled with handing over the certificate needed for her family to title the land – a “he has it, no she has it” kind of affair – and her working family is simply too busy to put the kind of pressure needed to get things moving. Throughout her story, the family are referred to merely as “les autochtones”. At the end, the eldest sister points to a small plot across the path, recently acquired by another family of allogènes. She tells me that she watches out for this family as well, to make sure that les autochtones do not try and pull a fast one on her apparent comrades.

The community could have been studied exclusively through its property norms. We repeatedly found wives busying themselves alone in their home, where they spend the lion share of their waking minutes. In spite of their reliance on their husband’s living quarters, they were ignorant on their property status. The most basic questions went notably unanswered. Nearby, a large family’s property is held communally in a collective title, kept at the home of the communal matriarch. This sub-community prefers to manage their property relations amongst themselves, perhaps according to custom, and eschew the application of State law. The entirety of the property is titled only so as to preclude forced eviction at the State’s hands.

Most importantly, the day underscored the how common property-related insecurities were. So few plots have been titled. Many occupants not only lack that basic legal protection, they also lack the tools and capacity to obtain it. One man tells us that he had purchased a future morsel from a man who had purchased the customary right to title the lot in its entirety. The vendor has since died, and this occupant is now clueless as to the location of the documents he would need to title his morsel.

Others have begun the titling process. The process, even after recent reforms, remains cumbersome and expensive. One resident, lured into hope by his neighbour’s success story, has taken the first steps and expects the process to take six months (as per the government’s half serious promise). Down the way, one family had invested its hopes in a sponsor, an individual who undergoes the titling process on behalf of another in exchange for a portion of the resulting securitized property. Three years have passed and no title has yet been received. The sponsor has been happy to live and farm his share of the land and to blame bureaucratic hurdles for his own lack of follow-through.

A kind of property anxiety is thus widespread – as it should be in a State where the threat of forced eviction looms large – and while it may encourage residents to undertake the titling marathon, it risks over-simplifying the life of property norms to the question of “is this property securitized, or not?” Although, it is interesting that, of all the criteria on which the UK-based NGO selects the recipients of its model houses, that is not one of them.

Droit foncier et Développement: Un mélange Explosif

 Par: Éloïse Ouellet-Décoste

Je dois avouer que je n’ai jamais été passionné des questions foncières. Que ce soit le cours de Droit des Biens ou de  Common Law Property, je n’y trouvais pas d’intérêt particulier. Pourtant, depuis que je suis au Cambodge, j’ai  l’impression de ne m’intéresser qu’à ça, la terre et les enjeux fonciers. J’imagine que c’est du au fait qu’ici il n’y a pas  vraiment de régime de propriété ou du moins, celui qui existe est très imparfait, ce qui ouvre la porte à beaucoup d’abus  et offre très peu de sécurité à ceux qui sont propriétaires. On est donc loin des questions du fond servant et des droits  des copropriétaires…et autres « technicalités » existants dans un régime de propriété bien établit.

Pour réellement comprendre le bordel foncier qui existe aujourd’hui au Cambodge, il faut remonter dans le temps  jusqu’au année 1970, durant le régime des Khmer Rouge. Comme l’explique si bien le Père Ponchaud dans son percutant livre « Cambodge Année Zéro », les Khmers Rouge ont mis en pratique à la sauce Khmer les idéologies communistes Soviet et Maoïste dans leur version la plus extrême. C’est-à-dire qu’ils ont poussé à bout ses idéologies dans leur logique interne. Ainsi, puisque la ville était considérée comme corrompue, Phnom Penh et les autres villes du Cambodge ont été évacués dans les jours suivants la victoire des Khmers Rouge en 1975. Des milliers de personnes ont été forcé de quitter leur maison  et leurs biens et de partir, à pied, vers la campagne pour y travailler la terre. En campagne, la propriété privé a été complétement abolit et rendu illégale pour faire place à la production collective, dirigé par l’Angkar, l’organisation centrale. Bref, entre 1975 et 1979, le Régime des Khmer Rouge a complétement anéanti le régime de propriété. Et depuis cette époque, le Cambodge tente en vain de ressusciter son système d’enregistrement des propriétés foncières.

En 1992, une première loi est entrée en vigueur, reconnaissant le droit de tous les Cambodgiens de posséder et vendre leur terre. Puis en 2001, une nouvelle Land Law a vue le jour. Cette loi devait encadrée les droits de propriétés fonciers au Cambodge, tant la propriété privé que public, résidentielle, commerciale et agriculturale, les droits de propriétés collectifs des communautés autochtones et des sites religieux. De plus,  à l’article 5, la 2001 Land Law garantie que nul ne peut être privé de ses droits de propriété, sauf si une telle expropriation est nécessaire pour l’intérêt publique et qu’une compensation juste et équitable a été préalablement accordée. Sur papier, les lois foncières sont bien établit, cohérente et en accord avec les droits de la personne. Par contre, la réalité est toute autre.

Le défi principal était de faciliter l’enregistrement des droits fonciers de ceux occupant et utilisant la terre depuis des années sans aucun titre officiel. En 2002, le Land Management and Administration Project (LMAP) a été mis sur pied par le Gouvernement du Cambodge avec le support financier et technique de la Banque Mondiale et des gouvernements Allemand, Finlandais et Canadien. L’objectif premier du LMAP était d’assister le gouvernement dans l’implantation des provisions de la nouvelle loi visant à réduire la pauvreté, promouvoir la stabilité sociale et stimuler le développement économique. Pour y parvenir, le LMAP visait à améliorer la sécurité des droits fonciers et à promouvoir le développement d’un marché immobilier dynamique. Cela dit, 10 ans ont passé depuis que LMAP a vue le jour et, pourtant, l’élite Cambodgien continue à s’enrichir en vendant la terre et les ressources naturelles du pays, alors que les pauvres sont du plus en plus exclus des bénéfices de la propriété. Les familles sans titre foncier ne parviennent pas à en obtenir, même après 10 ou même 20 ans d’occupation, demeurant ainsi extrêmement vulnérable aux expropriations. De plus, mêmes les familles possédant des titres fonciers sont victimes d’évictions forcés et d’appropriation de leur terre, sans compensation et sous pressions et menaces incessantes. Les riches ont mis le Cambodge en vente et en profitent pendant que les pauvres en subissent brutalement les conséquences.

Suite à l’entrée en vigueur de la loi de 2001, deux nouveaux mécanismes visant à promouvoir le développement du pays et à réduire la pauvreté ont été élaboré. D’abord, pour les régions urbaines, les Social Land Concession (SLC), un mécanisme légal permettant le transfert des propriétés étatiques aux communautés pauvres pour des fins sociales, soit résidentielle ou agraire. Ensuite, les Economic Land Concession (ELC), pour les zones rurales. Ce deuxième mécanisme légal fut mis sur pied pour permettre le transfert des propriétés foncières étatiques à des compagnies privées pour l’exploitation agro-industriel.

Cela dit, les dernières années ont su démontrer que ces deux mécanismes ont plutôt été conçus pour faciliter l’expropriation des pauvres occupant des terres potentiellement lucratives au profit des compagnies privés, et tout ça au nom du « développement ». Suite à l’établissement des SLCs, le gouvernement annonça son intention d’en établir 4 là où habitaient déjà des communautés urbaines. Et les années qui suivirent témoignèrent des vrais intentions du gouvernement : démanteler les bidonvilles et déplacer les communautés pauvres en périphéries de la ville (là où les sites de relocations sont dépourvus de tout service et les conditions de vies déplorables) pour ensuite transférer les droits de propriétés à des compagnies privés pour des projets lucratifs. De plus, dans les campagnes, de nombreuses ELCs ont été accordés dans des aires protégées. Ainsi, non seulement les ELCs privent des communautés rurales pauvres des terres dont ils dépendent pour survivre depuis des générations, mais en plus, elles accélèrent la déforestation, facilitant la transformation des riches forêts cambodgiennes en monoculture intensive de caoutchouc et de sucre.

Voici quelques statistiques pas mal épouvantables. Entre 2003 et 2008, LICADHO estime que 53,758 familles ont été victime d’abus de droit de la personne liés à la terre, soit éviction forcé, appropriation de leur terre ou destruction de leur propriété. Et le nombre de famille nouvellement affecté ne fait qu’accélérer à chaque année. Déjà 2 millions d’hectares ont été transféré à des compagnies privées sous les mécanismes de concessions foncières et, de ce nombre, 700,000 hectares ont été transférés en 2011. En d’autres mots, la moitié des concessions ont eu lieu en un an ! Ceci laisse présager le pire pour les années à venir. Déjà, des rumeurs cours que le terrain sur lequel repose le stage olympique de Phnom Penh sera concédé à une compagnie privée de développement immobilier. Cet énorme stade est non seulement un lieu hautement fréquenté par tous les résidents de la ville pour y faire leurs activités physiques quotidiennes, mais il s’agit aussi d’un des seuls lieux publics  encore accessible sans frais. Phnom Penh n’a pas de parcs et très peu d’espace où relaxer et s’amuser entre amis ou en famille. La disparition du stage Olympique aurait des répercussions importantes sur la vie collective des citadins.

Suite  à la violence résultant des évictions forcés des premiers mois de 2012, notamment la mort par balle d’une jeune adolescente de 14 ans dans la province de Kratie durant une éviction forcées, le Premier Ministre Hun Sen annonça, au mois de Mai dernier, un moratoire sur les concessions foncières. Pourtant, à peine 1 mois et demi plus tard, déjà 4 nouvelles ECLs avaient été accordés, chacune d’entres elles dans une zone protégée : 8,200 hectares dans le Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary; 9,688 hectares dans le Parc National de Kirirom; 9,068 hectares dans le Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary; et 9,000 hectares dans le Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary, pour un total de 35,000 hectares. Et bien sur, le gouvernement nie avoir violé son propre moratoire.

Comme si tout ceci n’était pas assez, le gouvernement a présenté récemment le brouillon d’une nouvelle loi sur la gestion et l’utilisation des terres agricoles. Deux aspects de ce nouveau projet de loi sont particulièrement troublant compte tenu du contexte actuel au Cambodge où la violence et les abus des droits de la personne reliés aux enjeux fonciers sont à la hausse. D’une part, si adoptée, cette nouvelle loi créera des « Agricultural Development Areas », i.e. la collectivisation de tous les terres d’une certaine région si une majorité (non-définit dans la loi) de propriétaire foncier votent pour. Par conséquence, tous les propriétaires de la région, tant ceux pour que ceux contre, seront forcés de participer au plan de développement imposé par le gouvernement, à défaut de quoi ils risqueront la prison. De plus, aucune provision de la loi ne prévoit un mécanisme pour mettre fin au ADAs. D’autres part, la loi établira des sanctions pénales allant jusqu’à 1 an d’emprisonnement pour ceux qui ne respecteront pas la loi, ou quelques sous-décrets promulguer sous cette loi. De plus, une autre provision prévoit que tout acte visant à faire obstruction à un fonctionnaire dans l’exercice de ses fonctions sous cette loi sera considéré une offense criminelle passible d’une sanction pénale. Ainsi, un fermier voulant s’opposer à la création d’un ADA afin de protéger son droit de propriété privée s’exposerait aux risques d’être reconnu coupable d’entrave à la loi et d’emprisonnement.

Ce projet de loi comporte un bon nombre d’autres provisions troublant qui risqueront de compromettre les droits de propriétés des fermiers et d’élargir la marge de manœuvre pour ceux qui souhaitent s’approprier par la force les terres d’autrui . Je vous en épargne les détails, mais si vous souhaitez en savoir davantage, voici un excellent rapport de LICADHO sur ce nouveau projet de loi : http://www.licadho-cambodia.org/reports/files/169LICADHOBriefingDraftAgriculturalLaw-English.pdf. Cependant, ce qui est le plus choquant est de constater à quel point le gouvernement n’a aucune intention réel de mettre en application les provisions du 2001 Land Law qui visent à faciliter l’accès aux droits de propriétés des pauvres et ré-établir un régime de propriété foncière favorisant la sécurité d’occupation des terres aux populations les plus vulnérables. Jusqu’à date, le LMAP (financé en partie par le gouvernement Canadien), visant à enregistrer les titres de propriétés, n’a fait que formaliser les inégalités.  Et c’est bien entendu la rhétorique du développement qui est constamment utilisée pour justifier ces abus.

Kafkaesque

By Chris Durrant

I’ve never read The Trail by Kafka. I tried once in middle school, but stopped, because I found it confusing and unpleasant, which I’ve subsequently learned was kind of the point. Still, I felt sure today in using the word Kafkaesque to describe what was going on, if not from my point of view, then certainly for my client.

This morning I received notice that there was a bail hearing to be run today. I began getting ready by interviewing the client, creating a release plan and making sure sureties and witnesses would arrive at court. This process usually lasts through lunch (today I ate some yogurt covered raisins, a can of V8 and a pecan tart while on the phone) but I was ready to go at the court at 1:30. Usually the Justice of Peace court deals exclusively with bail hearings in the afternoon, but today there was a trial. I sat patiently through the trial, watching with interest as lawyers cross-examined witnesses. Now while it is great for me to get to watch a defense lawyer get an RCMP officer to admit it is hard to get an actual sense of the sobriety of a citizen they don’t know, I feel bad for my client, who had been moved from a small cell in the RCMP detachment to a small cell in the court house, and who didn’t know when she’d get to appear before the court or even what time it was, besides from when I slipped out of the courtroom to tell her I thought it would only be half an hour longer.

Unfortunately, once the trial was finished, the Crown lawyer and myself were informed by the clerk that there were no bail hearings on the docket. As both of us had received disclosure in morning, we were quite surprised. My client was brought into the courtroom, where I had to explain to her that it appeared while the paperwork for her bail hearing had been sent to the Crown and myself, it had not been sent to the Court. While the Crown and I were happy to lend the court our copies of the information, that was not an option because documents proved to the Court have to be sworn to, and neither of our disclosures were signed. While the Crown was very helpfully trying to arrange for the RCMP to send the documents up to the court, the Justice of the Peace decided that as there were no matters on the docket before her (and that it was around four o’clock) she would close court.

If this whole process sounds confusing, it is. I can only imagine how hellish it must be when you are hoping to get out on bail. After the JP left, the court room was a tangle of lawyers, law students, law clerks and an RCMP officer talking about whether there was anything to be done. I tried to explain to my client what was going on, while at the same time hoping to have some matter to discuss with anyone in the courtroom, because explaining to someone that they’ll have to spend the night in prison because of a paperwork mix-up is something you really want to do as little as possible. On top of that, we needed to sort through whether she would be allowed to spend the night in the women’s correctional facility, or whether she would have to go back to the RCMP detachment for the night. The difference between the two is large. The women’s facility, while still a prison, is at least a place designed for people to stay for an extended period of time. The RCMP detachment cells are small concrete affairs, where prisoners are given a microwave Hungary-man dinner at lunch and supper (why breakfast is not provided is an alarming question at best) and mattresses and toilet paper are given out to the prisoners based on some criteria I have yet to figure out (assuming its not arbitrary). Obliviously my client did not want to go back to the RCMP detachment. To be able to go to the women’s facility however, their needs to be a signed remand warrant, which is usually signed when someone looses their bail hearing. As we didn’t have a bail hearing, there was no remand warrant. Eventually someone with the authority to sign a remand warrant was found, but even with that document, it was no guaranteed that my client would get to go to the women’s facility, because they generally don’t do one-day intakes. The RCMP however, said they would ask. I will find out tomorrow morning where my client spent to night when we appear before the court in the morning.

Now with the help of practiced lawyers, both the Crown and defense lawyers from my office, I understood what was going on today, and felt I was able to advocate as best as possible for my client. However, for my client, she told me she didn’t really understand the reasons for what was happening, and I wouldn’t blame her if she can’t tell whether I’m doing a good job or not. I try to be empathic, and explain as simply as I can what’s happening. However, I can’t imagine what it is like to be told she can’t have her hearing because there was a problem with paperwork, the Justice of the Peace went home, and the she might have to spend the night alone in a concrete room because it’s only one night. If not Kafkaesque, I’m sure the words arbitrary and unfeeling apply well to the process.

The irony here is that someone can be denied bail if their release would cast doubt on the administration of justice. I’m certain my client now has her doubts about the administration of justice, but nothing about what happened to her today will work in her favour tomorrow.

 

Also confusing and troubling, the possibly unprecedented return of ice to Frobisher Bay in August. This prevents the sea-lift from unloading its goods, and has temporarily ruined clam season, which is a free source of food (which can be frozen and kept year long)

Rights, resources, and framing the issue of disability

By Miatta Gorvie

The term “persons with disabilities” is a capacious term indeed, intended to capture the realities of a huge array of people’s lives. Somehow, it refers to an amputee begging in downtown Kampala and a person with mental health challenges languishing in prison while awaiting bail in a prison up-country; a girl who was fortunate enough to have been sent to a school for the blind or deaf and another who was left at home because of the lack of access to schooling for children with developmental disabilities. Legal Action for Persons with Disabilities – Uganda (LAPD) provides free and sustainable legal aid and human rights protection to the members of any and all of these communities of persons with disabilities (PWDs).

Access to justice for Uganda’s disabled is hindered at many turns. First and foremost is the fact that they are disproportionately more likely to live in poverty, as a result of systemic barriers to education and employment. There is no government assistance available for the disabled and so those who cannot work are dependent on family to fulfil their needs; the least fortunate are those that you see dotting the streets, begging for the goodwill of strangers. Even those who do have the resources to bring their cases to court will often be confronted by justice sector officials who do not understand the particularities of the lives of PWDs.

Uganda has a relatively robust disabilities rights regime, in terms of legislation. Not only has Uganda signed on to the 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, it has also domesticated it’s commitment with provisions in its 1995 Constitution and the Persons with Disabilities Act of 2006, among other acts and policies. However, while the legal instruments are in place, in substance they are often minimalist and incomprehensive.

This legislation is a great achievement for a poor country with an unconsolidated democracy, but laws are only part of the question of achieving dignity for PWDs. Disability rights, perhaps more than many others, is a fertile testing ground for the balancing of rights and other priorities. Indeed, the term “reasonable accommodation,” which has recently been extended to the question of multiculturalism in Quebec, finds its origins in the disability literature. Reasonable accommodation is the idea that “necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments not imposing a disproportionate or undue burden, where needed in a particular case” should be made to ensure that PWDs enjoy their rights and freedoms on an equal basis with others.[1] For example in employment, should an employee with a physical disability need a different chair from the model used in the office, it would be considered unreasonable for the person to lose their job over the purchase of a chair and the employer is legally required to make the adjustment.

Disability rights are constantly framed as being in competition with resources. In a developing economy like Uganda, what can it mean for children with disabilities to have the right to public education, the same public education system that can barely pay its teachers or supply learning materials? While the problems are much more visible here, this is hardly a problem reserved to poor countries.

This spring, I travelled to Ottawa with a group of McGill students to hear the opening arguments for the Moore case. As a boy, Jeffrey Moore suffered from severe dyslexia but was able to participate in the public school system because the division had a program for students with his particular needs. When this program was cut for budgetary reasons, his father was forced to place him in a private school, at great cost, and he sued the BC government for what he perceives as an undue hardship. In the opening arguments, the province submitted that Jeffrey should not be compared to other students in the public school system but other special needs students in the system. Framed that way, Jeffrey and all other students with intellectual disabilities were given an equal opportunity to access a “general education.” Moore was seeking an accommodation to access the mainstream service whereas the government defined his request as a specialized education service. Embarrassingly, the province also claimed that there is no right for a student to learn how to read, because even public school students without disabilities have difficulty reading.

When a G-8 country shrugs at disability rights under the guise of “budgetary constraints,” the prospects for PWDs in the developing world seem dire. The dominant discourse reflects the way in which disability rights are still seen as second-tier rights or aspirations that will come to fruition at some uncertain point in the future when scarce resources are no longer an issue. McGill’s Frédéric Mégret has considered whether the CRPD simply affirms the idea that existing human rights apply to PWDs and reformulates existing human rights to acknowledge the particularities of PWDs’ experiences, or whether it actually goes as far as to extend existing rights and innovate so far as to create new rights with the realities of the disabled at their core. He finds the Convention to be a “very subtle mix of the old and the new, which confirms existing rights, even as it amplified upon, evolves from and departs from them in the sort of creative ways required by the issue of disability.”

I agree with Professor Mégret’s proposition, that the CRPD was an opportunity to make a statement about difference and pluralism, often thought of as running contrary to the universalism and equality inherent in the human rights project. However, I took on this internship partly as a challenge, to step out of the safe spaces of seminar courses and panel discussions and consider what “human rights” can possibly mean in the field. Therefore, as a result of my experiences doing legal aid for PWDs with LAPD this summer, I must reluctantly endorse the pedantic view of the Convention that the professor rejects, the one that considers the document to be an affirmation of restatement of the applicability of existing human rights to PWDs.

When faced with politicians and judges who already see rights for PWDs as “other” and as something to be addressed only after rights for the majority have been dealt with, it is not helpful for an advocate to make an argument about newness and plurality. It is likely preferable to submit that PWDs have the same general human right to education and that their requests for inclusion are only accommodations and not brand new rights. Would this framing not make it much easier to refute the “budgetary constraints” argument? It seems to me that when dealing with few resources and little audience time with decision-makers, the pragmatic route might be the most effective.

 


[1] Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Article 2, http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=262.

L’état de la justice au Cambodge: Quand l’appareil judiciaire devient une arme politique

Par Éloïse Ouellet-Décoste

J`ai débuté ma journée en feuilletant le Code Criminel du Cambodge. Bon matin! Au premier coup d`œil, ce Code  Criminel n`a rien d`exceptionnel, il contient des crimes, des défenses, des circonstances aggravantes et atténuantes,  et la plupart des crimes et des sentences semblent raisonnables, comparable a ce que nous avons au Canada. Bien sur,  certaines nouveautés me sautent aux yeux, tel “Article 433: Régicide”…je n`ai jamais entendu parler de Régicide…et  lorsque je tourne les pages, je comprends pourquoi, il s`agit de l`assassinat d`un Roi…Cela dit, une fois que je regarde  un peu plus en profondeur son contenu, un nombres d`articles me font sourciller.

Le but de cette lecture matinale est de répertorier les articles les plus souvent utilisés contre les défenseurs des droits de  la personne. Au Cambodge, malgré le fait que l’indépendance et l’impartialité du système judiciaire sont garanties par la Constitution, les tribunaux demeurent une arme de choix contre ceux qui dérangent le gouvernement. Activistes et militants se portant à la défense des droits de la personne se retrouvent donc fréquemment devant la justice et, un certains nombres d’articles du Code Criminel à teneur assez vague sont déployés contre eux afin de les dissuader de continuer leurs travails. Les accusations les plus communes : incitation à commettre un acte criminel, diffamation, insulte, attaque aux travail des autorités, destruction de propriété. Et ces provisions du Code Criminel, qui sont à prime abord questionnable compte tenu leur définition vague, sont appliqué de façon très libérale par la Cour qui se permet de redéfinir les provisions pénales à sa guise afin de mettre des bâtons judiciaires dans les roues de ceux qui dérangent les intérêts personnels et commerciales du Gouvernement et des Compagnies privés proche du régime.

Pourtant, alors que l’appareille judiciaire est très efficace contre les défenseurs des droits de la personne, celui-ci est complètement inadéquat lorsque ce sont les victimes qui demandent justice. Compte tenu du manque d’Indépendance des tribunaux, ce n’est pas surprenant, mais ça reste excessivement dérangeant, surtout vue la violence perpétuée par la police et l’armée ces derniers temps. Depuis le début de l’année 2012, la police et l’armée ont ouvert le feu à plusieurs reprises contre des manifestants pacifiques, sans qu’aucune investigation indépendant s’en suive. En Mai dernier, une adolescente de 14 ans a été tué par balle alors que l’armée a ouvert le feu contre des villageois durant une opération d’éviction. Plutôt que de chercher à éclairer la situation et amener en justice les responsables de cette tragédie, le gouvernement a plutôt cherché à justifier l’incident en expliquant que cette force létale était nécessaire pour freiner le plan sécessionniste des villageois…pourtant rien ne prouve qu’en tel plan existe, et même s’il existait, je doute que les coups de feu amélioreraient la situation.

L’impunité ne protège pas uniquement les forces armées, les personnes influentes aussi n’ont pas trop à craindre la justice. En Janvier dernier, alors que plus de 1,000 employés des manufactures du Manhattan Special Economic Zone manifestaient pour de meilleures conditions de travail, un homme a ouvert le feu sur la foule avant de s’enfuir en moto. L’homme, qui est en fait l’ancien gouverneur du district, a été accusé d’avoir causé des blessures non-intentionnelles, sans pourtant être arrêté. Trois jeunes ouvrières ont été grièvement blessé au haut du corps…L’impunité s’est ça aussi, être accusé d’un crime moindre que celui réellement perpétué.

Donc, voilà l’état de la justice au Cambodge. Les victimes n’y ont pas droit et les innocents en sont victimes. Bien que le Cambodge soit une démocratie en théorie, ou du moins, considérer comme un pays en transition vers la démocratie, mon expérience jusqu’à date me révèle tout à fait le contraire. Et il semblerait que la situation s’empire depuis quelques temps. En fait, les élections approchent et le Premier Ministre travaille très fort pour consolider son pouvoir. La répression des libertés fondamentales d’expression et d’association est une de ses stratégies préférées. Et tout ceux qui de proche ou de loin semble s’opposer au gouvernement écope.

Par exemple, la fin de semaine dernière, le propriétaire de la seule radio indépendante du Cambodge, Beehive Radio, a été arrêté deux jours après son retour au pays. Il est accusé, entre autres, de complot sécessionniste et risque jusqu’à 30 ans de prison. Étrangement,  cette arrestation survient un mois après que Radio Beehive ait diffusé sur ses ondes un reportage sur la poursuite pour crime contre l’humanité menée au Tribunal Pénale Internationale par le Khmer People Power Movement contre le gouvernement Cambodgien. Bien que le Cambodge possède une Loi sur la Presse qui contient des provisions pénales spécifiques pour les journalistes ayant enfreint à leur devoir, le gouvernement préfère ignorer la liberté de presse et promouvoir l’autocensure en envoyant un message très puissant à tous ceux qui croient encore en le devoir des journalistes dans une société démocratique.

En fait, en plus de la répression violente et de l’utilisation des tribunaux, le gouvernement utilise aussi la législature comme arme contre les critiques. Au courant des dernières années, le gouvernement a développé plusieurs nouvelles lois qui enfreignent les libertés fondamentales des Cambodgiens. En plus du nouveau Code Pénal, le gouvernement a mis sur pied une loi sur les Démonstrations Pacifiques qui entrave à la tenue de manifestation et rend très vulnérable leurs organisateurs. La nouvelle loi anti-corruption met les dénonciateurs dans une position très précaire si leurs accusations s’avèrent fausse, mais compte tenu de la partialité des tribunaux, on peut prévoir que les accusations incommodes seront soudainement déclarées fausses…De plus, trois lois sont actuellement en route, une loi sur les ONGs, une loi sur les syndicats et une « cyberlaw ». Bien qu’encore au stage préliminaire, les derniers brouillons de ces lois laissent présager le pire.

Tous ces développements récents sont assez curieux, compte tenu de l’approche des élections l’an prochain. Plusieurs spéculent sur la santé du Premier Ministre Hun Sen et y voient une dernière tentative de consolider son pouvoir avant de mourir…Le Cambodge n’est pas un pays très connu, et figure rarement à la une des journaux. Pourtant, un niveau politique, le Cambodge est d’une certaine façon comparable au monde arabe. Hun Sen est reconnu pour son langage incendiaire. À titre d’exemple, voici quelques charmants mots qu’il a prononcé récemment “I not only weaken the opposition, I’m going to make them dead … and if anyone is strong enough to try to hold a demonstration, I will beat all those dogs and put them in a cage.” Démocratique dit-on…Hun Sen fait aussi partie du club des dirigeants qui sont au pouvoir depuis plus de 10,000 jours. Faites le calcul…10,000 divisé par 365, ça fait beaucoup d’année ! Suite au printemps arabe, de nombreux dictateurs ont été déchus, réduisant la liste des membres du club des 10,000 jours à moins de 10 et Hun Sen en fait partie. Démocratique dit-on…Hun Sen possède aussi une fortune personnelle estimé à plus de $500 millions. Je doute qu’un simple salaire de Premier Ministre soit suffisant pour amasser une simple fortune, même pour les plus économes, et à voir les propriétés de Hun Sen, je doute que celui-ci soit très économe. Démocratique dit-on…

Bref, on oublie trop souvent le Cambodge, on ignore trop souvent ce qui se passe au Cambodge et pourtant, la situation se détériore et le gouvernement se raffermie, au détriment de la population, au détriment des droits de la personne. Malgré une des Constitutions les plus progressistes en Asie du Sud Est, le Cambodge est loin d’être un exemple d’un pays où règne la primauté du droit. Bien au contraire, au Cambodge l’État de droit se résume ainsi, tel que décrit par Phil Robertson, Directeur du Bureau d’Asie de Human Rights Watch, « The laws in Cambodia are what Hun Sen says they are, not what’s written down ».

 

 

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