The Post's Beth Moorthy interviewed the UN Secretary-General's Special
Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia, Thomas Hammarberg, by email Dec 22.
Here is the interview in full:
POST: Many people seem to be quite upset about the Oct 30 memo you signed
with Om Yien Tieng and the Human Rights Committee. Although they admit it's vaguely
worded and says very little, their criticism is that by signing it, you and the UN
have given undeserved credit to an institution that everyone should be viewing as
suspect at best, a farce at worst. They say there was no need for such a memo and
that it was "accom-modationist".
Can you respond?
HAMMARBERG: The question is based on a misunderstanding. The Human Rights
Committee chaired by Om Yien Tieng represent the government. The Prime Minister has
delegated to that group some of the detailed discussion with the UN human rights
office and myself.
We have agreed that the UN would find and send experts to Cambodia to share experience
on criminal investigation techniques as well as legal and administrative reforms
necessary to combat impunity. We have signed an agreement with the government, through
the committee, on that.
This does not imply, contrary to what the question seems to say, that the UN has
stated that the committee is independent. In fact, I expressed the hope in my General
Assembly report that an independent National Human Rights Commission would one day
be established and the Assembly also encouraged the government to set up a new Cambodian
human rights commission which would be independent.
So, there is no confusion on the UN side that the existing committee is a Government
body. In all fairness, nor has the Government pretended that the committee is autonomous.
POST: Many people here (rights workers, diplomats, politicians) believe
that you have been noticeably less outspoken lately with regard to impunity and past
violations. Do you feel this is accurate? Some believe you have come under pressure
from within the UN, or from diplomats here, to tone your criticisms down, is that
true? Or some believe you are simply discouraged by the lack of progress ? Can you
point to things you and your office here have done that you regard as significant
progress in eliminating impunity?
HAMMARBERG: My most important initiative during the autumn was the presentation
of the Cambodia report in November to the General Assembly which introduced the discussion.
Impunity was the major point in my speech.
I said that the phenomenon of impunity continues to be a most serious problem, in
particular with regard to unlawful acts by the military and the police. I said that
decisive measures are still needed to establish a genuine independence of the court
system. I raised again the problem of article 51 in the Civil Servants Act and described
how this provision protects civil servants from being arrested and prosecuted.
I reported further in the General Assembly presentation that serious crimes with
political connotations, including assassinations, had still not been clarified. I
reminded the Assembly that the investigations into the 30 March hand grenade attack
and the July-August killings, when undertaken, had lacked vigour and determination.
I pointed out that to the two international experts, who came on our behalf to Cambodia
in April had recommended legal and organisational reform, improved professional training
within the police and the judiciary and they also mentioned the necessity of clear
signals from the highest levels of Government in order to break the culture of impunity.
Also, I referred to my progress report in late October on politically-related violence
"which again indicated the need for serious investigations and that firm action
be taken against those responsible".
Of course, I also reported on the efforts to help in the preparation of some effective
proceedings against Khmer Rouge leaders for their crimes 1975-79.
This major emphasis on the problem of impunity was also reflected in the resolution
which the General Assembly adopted. I am still as concerned about the fact that major
human rights violations, including political killings, have gone unpunished and that
the investigations still are not satisfactory, even serious. It is true that very
little, if any, progress have been made on this. Still, we will help with expertise
asked for - and continue to be critical until the truth is laid bare and those responsible
held to account.
POST: Along the lines of the last point, many felt that your overriding
focus during your last visit was on the KR trial and called that "regrettable",
since they believe that it detracted (some say completely negated) the UN Center's
final election report on the September violence. Can you respond?
HAMMARBERG: There are misunderstandings in this question as well. Human
rights is no zero-sum-game where work for one aspect (e.g raising the Khmer Rouge
crimes) undermines the work on other aspects (e.g. more recent atrocities). They
go together and belong to the same problem (in this case, impunity). The work of
the Group of Experts is a major UN initiative, obviously I wanted to check the preparations
for their mission.
However, I did other things as well. I discussed the September violence with the
Government. I raised the important issue about legislation on the non-governmental
organisations and said I had been infomred about a new draft within the Council of
Ministers which would severely restrict the activities of NGOs. Further, I collected
more facts about this violence, including the violence against the Vietnamese, as
a preparation for my November discussions in New York.
POST: It has been claimed to me that you did not mention that report during
your talk with Hun Sen. Is that true?
HAMMARBERG: When I met Hun Sen in October I outlined the forthcoming visit
of the Group of Experts. The problem of impunity in relation to recent crimes was
POST: Many people have suggested that your two aims during your last visit
were incompatible - that you had to be nice to the government to secure their cooperation
on the KR trial, and that precluded you coming down hard on them with regard to political
violence, etc. Do you think your current aims present a conflict?
HAMMARBERG: These are unfounded speculations. This is not how the UN acts
or could act, we have to do what needs to be done.
POST: Some rights workers here were expecting you to make a statement after
the elections on the overall human rights climate during that period and were upset
that you didn't. Why didn't you?
HAMMARBERG: I did. Several brief reports were published about election-related
violence - human rights violations - before and after the July election, I approved
these reports which were issued in my name.
I covered the human rights aspects of the developments. Probably the misunderstanding
in the question is based on the fact that I was not authorised to make statements
on the political developments, outside human rights. Human rights monitoring and
election observation overlap but they are not identical. At a press conference before
returning from my July mission I clarified this distinction.
I then wrote my General Assembly report which has a chapter headlined "Human
rights in relation to the electoral process". One of the 26 paragraphs reads
as follows: "Beginning in late May 1998, the Special Representative issued regular
reports on human rights in the elctoral process. These factual reports were prepared
by COHCHR on behalf of the Special Representative and made public on 1,9, 17 and
28 July. During the period 20 May-25 July COHCHR received over 400 allegations of
intimidation and violence related to the electoral process. Of these, 174 were actively
investigated and as of 25 July, 82 of them had been confrimed or assessed cridible
to the extent that they required further inquiry. Several dozen others were proved
groundless. Among the most significant instances investigated by the office were
29 killings, 2 attempted killings, 1 abduction attempt, 10 illegal arrests and detentions,
and 12 instances of physical assault. In at least 5 killings and 2 attempted killings
the motive appeared to be political. A dozen others were found not to be political
and available information on the rest indicated that there might have been mixed