European Law Monitor

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Human rights: killings in Guatemala and Cambodia, abuses in Nigeria


Parliament adopted its customary three human rights resolutions at the end of the plenary session on Thursday. The first is a response to the assassinations in Guatemala of three Members of the Central American Parliament. The second looks at the murder of trade unionists in Cambodia. In the third, the Nigerian government is pressed to deal with a range of issues ahead of the elections next month.

Killings of parliamentarians in Guatemala
In response to the assassinations in Guatemala on 19 February of three Members of the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) and the subsequent murder of the presumed killers, the European Parliament, in a resolution adopted by 57 votes to 0 with 1 abstention, calls on the Guatemalan authorities to face up to their responsibilities.
On 19 February the three parliamentarians (all from El Salvador) and their driver were murdered as they drove towards the PARLACEN plenary meeting. The alleged perpetrators of these crimes, who worked in the Guatemala Police Department, were themselves subsequently killed "in bizarre circumstances which have still not been clarified", says the resolution. Television journalists who covered the murder of the four police officers have received death threats.
A deep-rooted problem
This is not an isolated case. Several thousand homicides are committed every year in Guatemala but arrests are made in only 2% of cases. Threats and burglaries are suffered by witnesses and legal representatives of genocide victims and human rights organisations.
Organised crime is "deeply entrenched in the public institutions" and "has penetrated the Guatemalan police", contributing to "an atmosphere of impunity, and the deterioration of public safety", says the resolution. This "points to the need to assume political responsibility".
Government is responsible for protecting judiciary and human rights activists
In its resolution the European Parliament first expresses "its total repudiation of all the murders concerned, and transmits its condolences to the victims' relatives".
The EP then says it "expects the Guatemalan Government to guarantee full independence, liberty and security to the Guatemalan judicial authorities in their investigation of these crimes" and "calls for the full cooperation of the political, judicial and police authorities in Guatemala and El Salvador in the investigation of the events".
More widely, MEPs call on the government "to protect the judicial agents, the victims of crimes against humanity who are seeking justice, the human rights activists, and the witnesses who can help the trials progress".  The EP "welcomes the restructuring and purge of the security forces introduced by the government".
Combating impunity
The resolution urges the Guatemalan Parliament to "ratify the agreement signed on 12 December 2006 by the Government of Guatemala with the United Nations setting up an International Commission of Inquiry against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG)". The Guatemalan Parliament is also pressed to ratify the Statute on the International Criminal Court.
Lastly, the EP calls on the European Commission, under the cooperation strategy with Guatemala for 2007-2013, to promote "the rule of law, the fight against impunity, full respect for human rights and support for the Government of Government in capacity building of its security forces on the basis of human safety criteria".
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Murder of trade unionists in Cambodia condemned
The background to the resolution on Cambodia - which was adopted by 59 votes to 0 with 0 abstentions - is the murder of several trade unionists in recent years, the unreliable conviction of two people for one of the murders and the general lack of respect for the rule of law and basic rights in the country.
Trade unionists not safe
The murders of Hy Vuthy, Chea Vichea and Ros Sovannarith are the most prominent cases cited by the resolution, although other trade unionists in Cambodia "have been victims of serious harassment, intimidation and physical attacks in the past year".
Two individuals, Born Sammang and Sok Sam Oeun, were arrested for the murder of Chea Vichea and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment "despite the lack of any credible evidence against them", says the resolution.
The EP is "seriously concerned that these cases demonstrate that there is still no guarantee of the independence and impartiality of the judiciary". 
Khmer Rouge trials
Nor is there any guarantee of the judiciary's ability to conduct the trials of the Khmer Rouge leaders in the specially created court (the ECCC) without political interference, say MEPs. This court has not started work, because of disagreements between Cambodian and international judicial officers on the court's draft internal rules.
Cambodian authorities must tackle judicial and other problems
Parliament's resolution therefore "condemns the killing of Hy Vuthy and all other acts of violence against trade unionists; urges the Cambodian authorities to launch an urgent, impartial and effective investigation into the murders of Hu Vuthy, Chea Vichea, Ros Sovannarith and Yim Ry" and "calls on the authorities to give Born Sammang and Sok Sam Oeum a prompt retrial which complies with international standards".
It also "insists that the Cambodian Government must put an end to the prevailing climate of impunity and effectively apply the law to violators of human rights and civil liberties".
More broadly, the authorities are urged "to engage in political and institutional reforms with a view to building a democratic State" and "to ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, in accordance with international human rights standards and international conventions ratified by Cambodia".
The Cambodian Government must also "allow the Khmer Rouge Tribunal to start operating without further delay, in accordance with international standards of judicial independence, fair trial and due legal process, as agreed with the UN in June 2003".
Human rights and democracy: a cornerstone of Cambodia's agreement with EU
Lastly, MEPs remind the Cambodian Government that "it must meet its obligations and commitments with regard to the democratic principles and fundamental human rights" under its Cooperation Agreement with the EU.  The Council and the Commission of the EU are asked "to address the concerns over human rights and the rule of law in Cambodia in their contacts with the Cambodian Government".
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Nigeria urged to tackle abuses ahead of elections
Looking ahead to the elections in Nigeria in April, the European Parliament voted, by 36 votes to 24 with 1 abstention, for a resolution put forward by the EPP-ED group condemning a wide range of human rights and democracy abuses in that country.  This replaced a joint draft resolution, supported by several political groups, which focused on the single issue of a draft law in Nigeria seeking to ban same-sex marriage and criminalise homosexual activity.
Need for government to tackle human rights violations
In the adopted resolution the European Parliament "calls on the Nigerian Government to take immediate and effective measures to protect its citizens, put an end to the violence, the widespread corruption and the impunity for the perpetrators of human rights violations, and actively promote respect for human rights".
It also calls on the Government "to abolish the death penalty and to intervene in individual cases of persons tried under Sharia law and sentenced to death, amputation, flogging or other inhuman and degrading treatment that violates the Nigerian Constitution as well as international human rights law".
MEPs welcome "the multilateral agreement among 26 western and central African countries against trafficking in women and children, as well as other efforts made in this domain by the Nigerian authorities". However, they call on the Government "to take further measures in this area as well as in tackling the exploitation of children through child labour".
Call for clean elections
The EP argues that past state and national elections in 1999 and 2003 "could not be considered as free and fair due to widespread fraud and violence".  Therefore all stakeholders in the forthcoming national elections in April are called upon "to publicly declare their commitment to ending political violence, killings, intimidations and other human rights abuses as well as impunity for such crimes".
The Nigerian Government is also pressed "to address pre-election concerns regarding limitations on the independence of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), abusive conduct and harassment by security forces, and any other obstacle to freedom of expression and opinion and other basic requirements for free and fair elections".
No to ban on gay marriage
Lastly, turning to the topic on which the non-adopted joint draft resolution had focused, MEPs call on the Nigerian Parliament "not to adopt the 'Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act' in its current form, since it contains infringements of the basic human rights of freedom of expression and opinion, in particular when it envisages a five-year prison sentence for anyone involved publicly or privately in positive representation of or advocacy for same sex relationships".