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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Kirby ends his term with a snub from the two PMs

Kirby ends his term with a snub from the two PMs

JUSTICE Michael Kirby was ignored by the two Prime Ministers during his seventh and

final mission here last week as the UN special representative for human rights. Kirby

said that it had been an entire year since Hun Sen last agreed to talk to him.

The Australian judge - whose tenure has been widely seen by human rights advocates

as fair and dogged, though cautious - called the leaders' snub "unfortunate."

However, he said it hadn't stopped him from doing his job.

He ranked this continued high-level snub as one of his "top 10" list of

problems he had reported on and rallied against in Cambodia. Kirby also told journalists

about his "top 10" list of advances that Cambodia had made in the field

of human rights.

He said that work in public health had improved "60 percent", though Cambodians

still had to "sacrifice modesty" in the interest of further AIDS education.

He pegged the increase in the education standards at eight percent, musing about

the need for human rights in schools' curricula.

Kirby praised the enshrining in law of protection for Angkor Wat; the increase in

active women's groups; and the further moves toward a civil society which led him

to see more economic development in each of his visits. Kirby's "top 10"

also included the fact that no journalists had yet been imprisoned under the new

Press Law, and that forests were being protected under a government ban, though there

had been "exceptions." He praised the King's and local human rights groups'

initiatives in the rights area as "an inspiration."

Kirby's concerns - which have consistently angered the government, spotlighting it

on a world stage to the point where it wanted the UN Center for Human Rights to leave

Cambodia - included the rough treatment being handed out to Khmer National Party

leader Sam Rainsy.

Political parties were constantly blocked; the electronic media was neither independent

nor open; and the government didn't "respect fully the privileges of the National

Assembly." Domestic violence was being widely dismissed; minorities had to be

better protected; and the environment was "fragile and vulnerable" and

still not well protected by laws.

Kirby said corruption was worrying, as was the state of prison conditions and the

continued non-appointment of a Supreme Constitutional Council.

Kirby continued talking about the problems of Cambodian rights before being interrupted

mid-speech by the urgent whisperings of UNCHR director Daniel Premont. "The

director of my office has remined me of some of the many positive moves the government

has made..." Kirby resumed.

In a Weekend Australian article of Jan 21, Kirby was quoted as saying: "There

are some UN people who are too starry-eyed, they are intolerable of any suggestion

that this, their greatest triumph, the one pure exercise of peacekeeping, constitutional

government and human rights, has failed."

Kirby said however that the problems he faced in Cambodia were much less than those

faced by his peers in other countries - specifically mentioning Afghanistan and Sudan.

Despite Cambodian leaders' attitudes toward him which many observers say approach

that of loathing, Kirby only gave up his job because he was appointed last month

to the Australian Federal Supreme Court.

Kirby is likely to include in his latest report to Geneva a recommendation that the

next special representative must continue to be pro-active and relatively outspoken.

Some sources worry that Kirby's resignation will lead to an opposite character being

chosen in the interests of harmony - if one is chosen at all.

Kirby said that a "change of personality" may "provide an opportunity

to reopen a dialogue" with the government.

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