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The Freedom of Expression, Granted and Regulated

By: Norbert Klein Posted: November-24-2010 in
Norbert Klein

The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 691

After having published in The Mirror of last Wednesday that two groups using the newly created Freedom Park did not find it useful, a more elaborate reference to Freedom of Expression may help to clarify and to evaluate the situation.

While trying to trace related decisions and documents, some quite interesting aspects surfaced. The original UN website says:

On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the full text of which appears in the following pages. Following this historic act the Assembly called upon all Member countries to publicize the text of the Declaration and “to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories.”

Yes, the full text is available, it can be read by calling it up with a mouseclick here – and it is even comparatively short so that it is easy to download the English text and to read it. And there is even a Khmer text available here that can be downloaded as a PDF file.

One could assume that the advice at the beginning of the document, “to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions” is well implemented – starting with the translation of a Khmer language version.

But here starts the surprise. According to the UN Internet site where hundreds of translations are listed, together with the organizations or agencies that made the translations, it says that the Khmer version, made available to be listed on this UN site of translations, was made available by the Cambodia Documentation Commission in 2009 – that is 60 years after the declaration was made. I did not know this Cambodia Documentation Commission. Actually it is not located in Cambodia, and it is described as follows:


The Cambodia Documentation Commission is an association of Cambodian refugees, and human rights, legal, and Cambodia specialists. Associates of the Documentation Commission have conducted numerous research investigations in Cambodia and Thailand, analyzed phenomena of repression, translated Khmer language documents into English and international human rights declarations and conventions into Khmer, made human rights appeals to Cambodian political leaders and UN member states, made oral and written interventions at the UN Commission on Human Rights, testified to committees of the U.S. Congress, and monitored the Cambodia debates at the UN General Assembly and international conferences on Cambodia. The Director of the Documentation Commission is David R. Hawk, Associate of the Columbia University Center for the Study of Human Rights.

It is further reported that the Cambodia Documentation Commission needed money to do this work – and the funding to digitize the Khmer version of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights came from a foundation:

The Long Now Foundation was established in 1996 to develop the Clock and Library projects , as well as to become the seed of a very long-term cultural institution. The Long Now Foundation hopes to provide counterpoint to today’s “faster/cheaper” mind set and promote “slower/better” thinking. We hope to creatively foster responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years.


Finally we arrived at the result of this process. Some of the basic UN covenants and conventions became part of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia in 1993:

Article 31:
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, women’s and children’s rights.

And from there on, other rights and freedoms became integral part of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia:

Article 37:
The right to strike and to non-violent demonstration shall be implemented in the framework of a law.

Article 38:
The law guarantees there shall be no physical abuse against any individual.
The law shall protect life, honor, and dignity of the citizens…
Any case of doubt, it shall be resolved in favor of the accused.
The accused shall be considered innocent until the court has judged finally on the case…

Article 39:
Khmer citizens shall have the right to denounce, make complaints or file claims against any breach of the law by state and social organs or by members of such organs committed during the course of their duties. The settlement of complaints and claims shall be the competence of the courts.

And here the freedom of expression is specifically stated:

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.

The website of Phnom Penh City – “the charming city” – had reported that on 4 November 2010 a Freedom Park was inaugurated to regulate the freedom of expression. The report in The Mirror of last Wednesday, about frustrations and confrontations, can now be re-read in view of the constitutionally guaranteed rights, procedures, and treatments. And the arrangement for the Freedom Park can be used as further reference:

Democratic Corner (or Freedom Park) Was Inaugurated

In pursuance to principles of democracy and freedom of expression and article 14 and 28 of Peaceful Demonstration Law which was promulgated by Royal KromNo.NS/RKT/1209/025 dated 5th December 2009, the Royal Government of Cambodia approved all Capital and provincial authorities to establish a democratic ground through a letter dated 9th June 2010 by Ministry of Interior.

Phnom Penh Capital Hall establishes the place for those who want to express themselves or do demonstration to claim for conditions under the law on the land area of 11,970 m2 located in front of a stupa between Road No.51 and 61 in SangkatWat Phnom, Khan Doun Penh.

This ground was inaugurated on the 4th November 2010, highly presided over by H.E. Governor. H.E. also said that this place was constructed on 6th July 2010 and completed 30 September 2010 for not more than 200, spending 735.389.000 USD [Note: Probably not US$735 million, but US$735,389] of Capital Hall budget. There are also officials standing by there to get feedback or requests from protesters.

This seems to be the conclusion. The Kingdom of Cambodia recognizes and respects human rights as stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia, so that Khmer citizens have freedom of expression, but only for not more than 200 persons at a time, and only at this specific place? To achieve this, US$735,389 was spent – a considerable amount for an arrangement which so far did not seem to be useful for those who used their freedom of expression at this place.

This article was first published by The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 691 - Sunday, 21.11.2010
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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