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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hammarberg: impunity Cambodia's problem

Hammarberg: impunity Cambodia's problem

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During his last mission to Cambodia before he leaves office at the end of the

year, UN Special Representative for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg spoke

to Anette Marcher about the possibility of a Khmer Rouge trial, his

relationship with the Cambodian government, current human rights issues and

continued UN presence in Cambodia.

Post: How would you characterize the human rights situation in Cambodia

today?

Hammarberg: There are still many deep problems, but we are now in a

phase where it should be possible to build structures and educate people. In

that sense we are currently in a test period - testing the political willingness

to do something about human rights.

Thomas Hammarberg . . . Cambodia currently in a test period

Previously, the sharp political

contradictions made it difficult to carry out necessary reforms. Now, political

stability makes it possible to put a heavy emphasis on improving the judiciary

and the legal framework, educating and reforming the police, etc. Cambodia

should now be in a reform period.

Post: What are the most important

human rights issues facing Cambodia today?

 

Hammarberg: The number one problem is the impunity. It is necessary to

hold responsible people accountable for their actions. The problems in the

functioning of the justice system holds repute throughout the society, and there

are signs that people have little respect for the judiciary. The sense of

justice in the Cambodian society is undermined and it will take some time to

rebuild.

Post: How can that be done?

Hammarberg: First of all you need a good legal framework that now

suffers from rather serious gaps - a criminal code, a criminal procedure code,

civil law and civil process code.

There is also a need to go through the

courts themselves. The body that is supposed to oversee the functioning of the

justice system, the Supreme Council, must begin to work. It is too passive today

and its absence is greatly felt.

Second, I think there must be more

political support for the authority of the courts. One problem is that when the

courts try to bring military persons to trial, they meet opposition from

military ranks. A very clear political signal needs to be sent out that this is

not acceptable, with clear examples of intervention against responsible

commanders.

Finally, it is absolutely necessary to increase the salaries

of judges and prosecutors and crack down on any tendency of

corruption.

Post: During your more than three years as Special

Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia, what are the most important

improvements you have seen?

Hammarberg: There have been some important law changes. The amendment

of Article 51 of the Civil Servant Act - though still not totally clear - is an

important step. We also have some good draft laws now, for instance on land

issues.

The problem of illegal logging, which also had an impact on the

rights of indigenous peoples, has not been completely eliminated, but at least

reduced dramatically. And the efforts to collect weapons - though again not

complete - have also had some positive effects.

But I think the most

positive progress is more in the area of awareness and knowledge about human

rights. I notice more awareness about human rights problems than before. This is

the first step - that people know what is right and wrong.

Finally, the

human rights NGOs are really quite competent and mature. It is quite an asset

for a country like Cambodia to have these well-informed and well-intended

organizations.

Post: What setbacks or disappointments have you

experienced?

Hammarberg: That so few cases of politically related killings have

been brought to conclusion.

The grenade attack in 1997 was the kind of

crime where justice should have been given absolute priority. The investigations

should have been serious and transparent with constant reports to the public

about what was going on. Very little of that has happened, of

course.

Post: One issue that has been of great importance to you is

the creation of a trial to deal with Khmer Rouge atrocities. How do you view the

current situation in the negotiations?

Hammarberg: The positive [thing] in Prime Minister Hun Sen's statement

[at the airport last week] was the signal that the Cambodian government is

prepared for further discussions. So the door is not closed. But there are still

outstanding matters which were not clarified by the Prime Minister's

statement.

I hope that by the end of the year, the UN and the Cambodian

government can reach an agreement on the operational text, which is the text

that will go to the National Assembly and the Senate.

And the mere fact

that we have slowly proceeded in the discussion of a Khmer Rouge trial is

positive. I'm sure, now, that something will come out of it in the

end.

Post: How do you feel about the contents of the US-brokered

compromise that may be in the making?

Hammarberg: The only thing that really matters in the end is whether

the process has integrity and independence. My advice back to [UN headquarters

in] New York has been that one should not discuss the elements of the trial one

by one. Instead, one should look at the totality, whether it fits as a whole and

whether it will ensure integrity and independence

Post: Some believe

that the high-profile Zacklin delegation in August was, if not a mistake, then

the wrong thing at the wrong time?

Hammarberg: The issue of a Khmer Rouge trial is complex, even more so

since the idea developed of a mixed tribunal. For that purpose, I welcomed the

decision to involve the UN top lawyers.

But my concern was that it took a

bit of time before we followed up on the Prime Minister's invitation in May.

That was unfortunate and I have actually apologized to him for the delay.

Post: How would you characterize your relationship with the Cambodian

government?

Hammarberg: I have had a constructive working relation with several

ministries. The confrontations have been with the Prime Minister, especially on

cases of political killings and especially in the period after July 1997. But I

believe that he respects my sincerity and honesty.

Post: UN Representative

Lakhan Mehrotra recently called Hun Sen "a champion of democracy". Do you agree

with that?

Hammarberg: I avoid giving marks to my

counterparts.

Post: What do you see as your most important achievement

during your time as Special Representative for Human Rights?

Hammarberg: Achievements in the fields of human rights is very seldom

one big splash. Also, I see myself as part of the UNHCHR office.

I think

the UN operation here has helped highlight the importance of human rights. And

we have also contributed to the fact that we are now discussing seriously a

Khmer Rouge trial.

Post: What would you have done differently?

Hammarberg: Not really anything. Of course, as an outsider I have

misjudged the issues sometimes, but that is inevitable.

I do, however,

regret that I did not manage to organize a speedy response to the invitation in

late May for a discussion on the mixed tribunal. That process has been slower

than I wanted and hoped for.

Post: How do you see the future role of

the UN Center for Human Rights?

Hammarberg: There will be two aspects. One will be to help in advisory

form with judicial reform and perhaps act as go-between between this and other

governments.

Then, there will be more work with children's and women's

rights, prostitution and trafficking. In respect to trafficking, the time has

come to relate more to the issue on a regional basis, and the new Director of

the Center will also be appointed Regional Rapporteur on trafficking to UN High

Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson.

Post: You have been

attacked for playing down the Center's criticism of human rights abuses in order

to gain goodwill for the negotiations of a Khmer Rouge trial?

Hammarberg: The two are part of the same picture. It's important to

break the culture of impunity and the Khmer Rouge stands for that, too. There

has been no trade-off between the two.

Post: The UN's political office

in Phnom Penh may have to close by the end of the year. Why was it not possible

to negotiate a solution where both UN offices remained in function?

Hammarberg: I have not been involved in the discussions about the

political office. The Prime Minister stated to [UN Secretary-General] Kofi Annan

that he wanted to phase out the political office and in the same meeting agreed

to extend the charter for the Center with two more years. But we haven't sold

out one office to be able to stay in the country ourselves.

Post:

What consequences would closing down the political office have for the

negotiations about a Khmer Rouge trial?

Hammarberg: What the UN has to ensure is that in our total structure

there is competence to deal with this matter. If the Center does not deal with

it and if my replacement is delayed, we have to find another way to handle it.

What matters is continuity.

But I'm not too worried about that. There is

intention in New York to sort this out.

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