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Hun Sen says UN envoy ‘lacks respect’

PM calls Subedi’s language ‘inappropriate,’ and now plans to meet with him only once a year

PRIME Minister Hun Sen has lashed out at Surya Subedi, the UN’s special rapporteur for human rights, accusing him of lacking “respect” during his recent visit and saying they will now meet just once a year rather than the customary three times.

On Thursday, Subedi concluded a 10-day visit – his third mission to Cambodia – with outspoken criticism of the state of the judicial system, and said he was “disappointed” that a scheduled meeting with Hun Sen had been cancelled because of the premier’s ill health.

Speaking at the closing of the National Veterans Conference at the National Institute of Education on Monday, Hun Sen said Subedi conveyed disrespect in his choice of the word “disappointed”.

“I think this word lacks respect for the house owner and lacks respect to the leader of a country which has sovereignty and integrity, and it looks down on the Cambodian people who voted for the Cambodian People’s Party and through the National Assembly voted for Hun Sen as prime minister,” he said.

Hun Sen said Subedi should instead have expressed “regret” with respect to the cancelled meeting, and that he should also have wished the prime minister a speedy recovery from his illness.

“If I am sick, do I need to report to you?” Hun Sen said. “Next time when coming to Cambodia do not colonise Cambodia. You should speak more politely and respectfully to the patient because I have been sick, sick until now. Your language is inappropriate.”

Later in the speech, he added that he had “changed his attitude” and would only meet Subedi once a year from now on, rather than every time the envoy visits the country.

Hun Sen also took issue with Subedi’s concluding remarks, saying the government had considered the issues of land rights and judicial independence “100 or 1,000 times” already.

“Don’t try to push the door while the door is open, and don’t tell me the rain is coming while I am walking in the rain,” he said. “I want to say that no other people love Khmers like the Khmers love Khmers.”

Local rights groups, too, were subjected to attacks from the premier, who described them as “shadowy organisations”. He complained in particular about a June 15 March in which 200 people appeared at his Phnom Penh home to deliver a petition bearing the thumbprints of 60,000 land dispute victims.

“This kind of game should not be played with Hun Sen,” Hun Sen said.

At a press conference Thursday, Subedi criticised the judiciary, saying it lacks independence and “does not command the confidence of people from many walks of life”.

“There are an alarmingly high number of people in detention due to various shortcomings in the criminal justice system, and the instances of miscarriage of justice are far too numerous,” he said.

He also expressed concerns about land rights and “the narrowing of political space” due to legal attacks against journalists, rights workers and political opponents.

Subedi will submit a report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in September.

Naly Pilorge, executive director of local rights group Licadho, said Subedi’s remarks on Thursday were consistent with his role as an independent expert appointed by the UN.

“The UN special rapporteur is obliged to present his findings to our government and to the Cambodian people, and our government should consider his findings to ensure Cambodia meets their obligations to the international community,” she said.

Yim Sovann, spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, agreed, saying Subedi had no political interest in smearing the government’s rights record.

“If there is information about the human rights situation he should consider it seriously. He should sit together with Subedi to solve the problem,” he said.

He also dismissed the prime minister’s claims that he had considered the problems raised by Subedi, saying the court system remains a persistent obstacle to development.

“Look at the consequences – the people cry everyday. Good investors don’t want to invest in Cambodia because they don’t trust the courts,” he said.

Trouble in paradise
Others said the reaction recalled the notoriously stormy relationship between Hun Sen and Subedi’s predecessor, Yash Ghai, who resigned from his post in acrimony in September 2008.

“This is only the beginning of another breakup,” said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights. “There’s always a honeymoon period, and then there’s reality.”

Subedi could not be reached for comment on Monday, but in an interview with the Post ahead of his first mission to the country in June of last year, he said his approach would differ greatly from Yash Ghai’s.

“My approach in life has been to be persistent, to be patient, to be polite but firm. This is what my role will be,” he said.

“I will not be provoked into any sort of unprofessional matters. I will remain patient, keep my nerve, keep my cool and do my best.”

Ou Virak said Subedi’s more diplomatic stance would not affect how his criticism is received.

“Whatever language you try to speak in, the message will be exactly the same, and the government will not be happy,” he said.

Ou Virak added that speaking the truth without offending the government is “an art that nobody in the world knows”, and predicted that tensions will persist.

“This was the case before Subedi, it will be the case with Subedi, and these things will continue,” he said.

Christophe Peschoux, country representative of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, declined to comment on Monday.

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