Peter Leuprecht, special representative for the UN High Commissioner for Human
Rights, has appealed to Prime Minister Hun Sen to seek an end to political
violence in Cambodia. However, Leuprecht was optimistic the situation was
"Hun Sen really committed himself to repeating his earlier
appeals against violence and told me: 'I will repeat it 50 times'," said
Leuprecht, who arrived November 18 for ten days of meetings and
"One is inclined to compare the commune elections with the
last two general elections and, while I entirely disapprove of any violence,
there's been less of it than at those previous occasions," he said, adding that
the post election environment would require continued
"Vigilance will have to continue after the election. Some
people who've been local rulers for a long time will lose their jobs and may not
find it easy to accept that," he warned.
While Leu-precht said that any
political motivation for recent violence was difficult to determine, he noted
that "nonetheless the victims happen to be politically active and this sort of
incident is not conducive to a relaxed climate in which free and free elections
can take place".
"To be fair [Minister of Interior] Sar Kheng has issued
instructions to the police to be vigilant in regard to acts of violence, so my
feeling is that these kinds of incidents are not wanted by the authorities and
are not in their interests either," he said.
In addition to the upcoming
elections, Leuprecht said that judicial reform and the right to education would
be the focus of his visit. He said he would also attempt to resolve the still
outstanding issue of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the Cambodian
Office of the UNHCHR during his visit. The organization has been operating
without an agreement with the Cambodian government for almost two years.
"When I met the PM last June he sounded very encouraging and said the
MOU should be signed soon. [However] it has not yet been resolved. The PM said I
should discuss it with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, which I will do," said
Leuprecht, describing the sticking point that needed to be resolved.
question of immunity for words spoken by participants at events organized by the
office; Cambodian people should be able to speak freely [at such events] and not
be harassed when they come out of the meeting," he said.
meeting the Prime Minister had agreed that judicial reform remained a major
"He said the judicial reform remained a priority and he said he
found that progress was too slow and that efforts should be speeded up.
[Cambodia needs to] depoliticize, ensure the independence and stop interference
by the executive in the judiciary. They [need to stop] these kinds of circulars
that ministries dish out where the judges are told how they should decide,"
Leuprecht said of the key elements of judicial reform. Increasing salaries,
opening the bar to young lawyers and improving court conditions were also
essential, he said.
"The material conditions of courts are appalling.
There are some unbelievable practical problems. One reason people who are
arrested are not presented to the judge is that they don't have any means of
transport to bring them from the prison."
Leuprecht also said he was not
convinced about the effectiveness of the new penal code under discussion in the
National Assembly. If the code becomes law it will dramatically increase
penalties for a range of offenses.
"I agree that the country needs a new
penal code [but] I certainly do not think that higher penalties are a solution
to the crime problem," he said. Giving judges greater leeway would be preferable
to higher penalties.
"I have been critical of certain instructions issued
by the previous Minister of Justice telling judges to inflict the maximum
penalty - the judge should be able to appreciate all circumstances of the
Speaking about progress on the proposed Khmer Rouge trial,
Leuprecht said the subject had been raised repeatedly in New York. "I think
we've now reached the stage when the UN must come to an agreement. I know that
Ambassador Corell has received an official translation of the law and I think
that the remaining issues can be handled within the MOU. I very much hope that
they will come here and negotiate with the Cambodian government before the end
of this year," he said.