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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hammarberg defends his track record in Cambodia

Hammarberg defends his track record in Cambodia

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

also raised.

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

motives".

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