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Govt coming around: Subedi

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The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, Surya Subedi, speaks optimistically about Cambodia’s continued development on Saturday in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

United Nations rights envoy Surya Subedi has been on the end of more than one public lambasting during his latest visit to the Kingdom, but as he prepared to depart, he told the Post that behind closed doors, officials had accepted some of his critiques.

Speaking Saturday, Subedi said his ninth official trip to Cambodia had put his discussion with the government “back on track” after officials refused to meet with him on his last mission in December.

“The relationship with the government has been rocky, up and down. But finally this time, they were forthcoming with information, willing to admit what the deficiencies are, willing to work with me,” he said, adding that a number of his recommendations have either been implemented, are in the process of being so, or are “under active consideration”.

This trip may well have been Subedi’s last, as the UN’s two-year extension of the special rapporteur’s mandate, adopted by the Human Rights Council in 2011, expires later this year.

Recommendations implemented by the National Election Committee (NEC) ahead of July’s poll include the print and online publication of the voter list and the appointment of two senior retired judges to the committee, Subedi said.

Although recent studies have claimed the national voter registration list is riddled with irregularities, he added that no one has petitioned him directly to claim their names are missing, and hence he has not taken direct “action”.

A longer-term recommendation, to allow Cambodia to meet the “international benchmark” for free and fair elections by making the NEC an autonomous, constitutional body, will not be implemented before the election, he said.

Subedi’s week wasn’t an easy one – students, some with alleged links to pro-CPP youth groups, protested at a public lecture he delivered Tuesday evening, calling for his removal, while Cambodian Human Rights Committee president Om Yentieng blasted him as biased a day later.

The sentiments expressed on those occasions echoed past government criticisms, but according to Subedi, he remains an “optimistic person”.

“I believe that making a small difference is better than making no difference,” he said, adding that dialogue with other parties “keeps me going . . . keeps me encouraged”.

Since Tuesday, many Cambodians have expressed their support for his mission, he added.

“That sort of protest does not, and will not, distract me or deflect me from the work I am mandated to do in this country by the United Nations.”

In an apparent reference to the opposition party, Subedi warned in his pre-departure press conference against the exploitation of “racial sentiments” during the election campaign.

UN member states will decide whether to extend the special rapporteur’s mandate after Subedi presents to the Human Rights Council in September.

“Removing me from the picture, the position of special rapporteur should be continued,” he said, adding he could remain in the position if asked.

“I will certainly consider my options. But given what I have been able to achieve . . . there is still some contribution that can be made. So I would be willing to carry on.”

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