Parliamentary question by Marco Pannella (NI) to the Commission and answer given by Mr Patten on behalf of the Commission

Parliamentary questions
by Marco Pannella (NI) to the Commission
(19 February 2003)

Subject: Violation by the Cambodian Government of the UN Refugee Convention in the case of Montagnards (Dega) fleeing persecution by the Vietnamese government

Despite repeated requests and pressure from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the US embassy in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian government is continuing to violate the UN Refugee Convention and the fundamental rights of hundreds of Montagnards (Dega) fleeing persecution by the Vietnamese government, after closure of the refugee camps in the Ratanakri and Mondulkiri regions. In recent months there has also been evidence of forced repatriation of hundreds of Montagnard refugees, of whom nothing more has been heard.

On 20 December the Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen signed Sub-decree 124 ordering a further 600 members of the police force to be posted to control the border between Cambodia and Vietnam. The head of UNHCR's liaison office in Cambodia, Nikola Mihajlovic, has said that this measure has 'serious implications' for any Montagnards seeking asylum in Cambodia. "The fact is that the police are out there searching for people and denying them access to asylum. We always hear people are being deported, but we have no way of confirming that. But it is for UNHCR [not the government] to say who is an illegal immigrant and who is in need of asylum".

According to the Jesuit Refugee Service, about 50 Montagnards (men, women and children, mostly Pnong) were stopped by the Cambodian police near Koh Nhek during the first week of January 2003 and taken back to the border with Vietnam by force, where they were handed over to the border police. Subsequently, during the third week of January, a further group of 30 Montagnards (also Pnong) were arrested by officers, also in the vicinity of Koh Nhek. However, this group was brutally beaten before being escorted back to the frontier. Local sources also report summary executions and refugees being detained in prison camps after being arrested in Cambodia and forced to return to Vietnam, in violation of the UN Refugee Convention.

Does the Commission intend to take action, and if so what, to make sure that the Cambodian government honours its commitments under international law by immediately reopening the refugee camps in the Ratanakri and Mondulkiri regions, as called for by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, to give sanctuary to the hundreds of Montagnards who are continuing to flee persecution by the Vietnamese government?

Does it also intend to continue to fund the Cambodian government despite these continuing and repeated violations of its international human rights obligations, in breach of the provisions of the cooperation agreements with Cambodia?

Answer given by Mr Patten
on behalf Commission
(20 March 2003)

The Commission’s Delegation in Phnom Penh, together with the Diplomatic Missions of the Member States, continues to follow closely the situation of the Vietnamese Montagnards who seek refuge in Cambodia and to participate in diplomatic démarches of the EU to the Government of Cambodia on issues of concern. The Government of Cambodia has confirmed that it will continue to honour its commitments assumed in the framework of International Covenants.
The representatives in Cambodia of the Commission and the Member States also maintain close contact with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). At the present time, the UNHCR supervised re-settlement of those Montagnards, who had sought refuge in Cambodia following the events of February 2001 and who had expressed a wish to go to the United States is continuing. Some 102 of these individuals are currently accommodated in appropriate transit facilities. Arrangements are in hand for the resettlement of a further 41 Montagnards by the end of March 2003. In addition, a number of Vietnamese Montagnards who have sought refuge in Cambodia in recent months have been placed together with those still awaiting clearance for resettlement in the United States.
The UNHCR continues to have access to the provinces of Mondulkiri and Rattanakiri and to send “flying teams” to monitor the situation concerning new arrivals of Vietnamese Montagnards. The possibility of organising reception centres has been raised with the Government of Cambodia. The Commission is aware of the unconfirmed reports of deportation of some new arrivals. It has proved impossible to obtain any confirmation of the allegations of mistreatment or of summary executions referred to in the question.
The Community-Cambodia Co-operation Agreement, which was signed in 1997, states in its first Article that respect for human rights and democratic principles constitutes an essential element of the Agreement. Questions related to the respect for and the promotion of human rights are addressed in meetings of the Community-Cambodia Joint Commission established under the Co-operation Agreement. The Commission, together with the Member States represented in Cambodia, monitors closely human rights developments in order to encourage and support the continued commitment of the Government of Cambodia to progress in the field of human rights. The Commission also participates with the Member States in all EU démarches to the Government of Cambodia on human rights issues.

The Commission's approach towards Cambodia in the field of human rights, as it is towards all countries in the region, is to encourage and support continued progress on human rights and democratisation, and to raise concerns where abuses occur, in the framework of the international human rights instruments. This approach was reiterated in the May 2001 Commission Communication on the EU’s role in promoting human rights and democratisation in third countries .