Prime Minister Hun Sen lashed out at the UN’s human rights envoy to Cambodia yesterday, saying Surya Subedi’s latest report skewed too heavily toward the opposition and suggested his talents might be better employed elsewhere.
“He [should] go to help his country rather than help in Khmer country. He considers himself a law professor. Why doesn’t he go help his country with writing the constitution?” Hun Sen said during a graduation speech at Phnom Penh’s National Institution for Education.
While the premier never mentioned the Nepalese national and Leeds University law professor by name, he made repeated reference to the rapporteur’s recent stinging reports, which were presented at the UN Human Rights Council held in Geneva last month.
In the reports, Subedi was unsparing in his criticism, saying the government had valued short-term economic benefits over long-term growth and highlighted serious flaws in the electoral system.
Hun Sen called the conclusions “unfounded”, adding that they reflected only the recommendations of an individual and not the UN as a whole. He also criticised the findings as supported only by civil society and opposition groups.
Unlike some of his peers, Subedi – who has served as the special rapporteur since 2009 – has enjoyed relatively warm relations with the government. His predecessor, Yash Ghai, quit in a rage, following increasingly acrimonious ties and a series of harsh attacks from the government in response to his unusually blunt critiques.
Subedi, however, saw his mandate extended in 2011 by an unprecedented two years, and officials have previously said Subedi is in no danger of being turned away.
Spokesman for the Council of Ministers Phay Siphan said yesterday that he hoped Subedi might take the premier’s words as a recommendation.
“He should regard himself as a partner, a diplomat from the UN [who is here] to help Cambodia in the sector of human rights … He should consult with everybody. Not just with the opposition party and those with bias against government.”
Stressing that he had “a great deal of respect for the Prime Minister”, Subedi responded in an email that there remains “room for improvement in the governance of Cambodia”.
“My job is to identify the shortcomings that exist in the system and offer my recommendations to address them,” he said, adding that he had, in fact, been offering assistance to his native nation as well.
“Nepal has a liberal democracy where the judiciary is independent and people do not go to jail for criticising the government. The civil society is vibrant and the government in Nepal respects and listens to the representatives of civil society,” he wrote.
“Both Cambodia and Nepal have gone through similar experience in the past and have a great deal to learn from each other.”