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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - New UN rights envoy chosen

New UN rights envoy chosen


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Former UN human rights envoy Yash Ghai, who resigned his post in September after an acrimonious three-year posting.

IN FOCUS UN envoys


  Michael Kirby (Australia)

  Thomas Hammarberg (Sweden)

  Peter Leuprecht (Austria)

  Yash Ghai (Kenya)

  Surya Prasad Subedi (Nepal)

THE United Nations has formally appointed its new special rapporteur for human rights to Cambodia, prompting civil society concerns that the official will face the same hostile reception as his predecessor.

At a meeting in Geneva Wednesday, the UN's Human Rights Council chose Nepal's Surya Prasad Subedi to fill the post, which has been vacant since his predecessor Yash Ghai's bitter resignation in September. Subedi will be the fifth person to occupy the position since 1993.

In a statement issued by the council on Wednesday, Sun Suon, head of the Cambodian Permanent Mission to the UN, was reported as saying the government welcomed the appointment of Subedi - a former Oxford professor and recipient of the Order of the British Empire - and expressed hopes he will perform his duties in "a spirit of cooperation and good partnership".

But following government dismissals of the US State Department's annual rights report, which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs this month slammed as hypocritical and politically motivated, rights groups say Subedi's treatment will be a litmus test of the government's credibility on human rights issues.

"If the government has the good will to respect human rights, they should cooperate with the new representative," said Human Rights Party President Kem Sokha.

"I supported Yash Ghai, and I hope that [Subedi] can work with the government to improve human rights."

During his three-year stint as envoy to Cambodia, Ghai - a lawyer from Kenya - was publicly attacked by Prime Minister Hun Sen and other officials for his unusually blunt critiques of the government's rights record. In September, he resigned his post in anger, harshly rebuking the government for its lack of commitment on human rights issues.

But Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said that each of the UN's human rights envoys had received similar treatment from the government, and that anything different would be a break from standard practice.

"I'm not sure how they will treat the new representative, but I would imagine that [treating him] like that again would be a bad reflection on [the government]," he said.

He added that the government's calls for "dialogue" were increasingly meaningless, and said that it seemed to allow nothing but the mildest criticisms about human rights violations.

"If that's what the government expects, it's not what they're going to get from the US State Department or any UN body," he said.

Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said the ruling party was very open to working with Subedi, but warned that he should "check his information" before writing reports criticising the Cambodian government.

"He should not write reports based on information from opposition parties or NGOs that don't like the Cambodian government," he said Thursday, adding that Yash Gai's criticisms - distributed around the world - had tainted the government's image.

"We would not like people to admire us, but we would like  them to write the truth about Cambodia. We will welcome his recommendations if they are correct and help Cambodia in the best possible way."

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith and Om Yentieng, senior minister and head of the government-run Human Rights Committee, were not available for comment Thursday.

But Lao Mong Hay of the Asian Human Rights Commission said the terms of the 1991 Paris Peace Accords pledged the government to work with the UN to improve the human rights situation throughout the Kingdom.  

"Through hostility towards the field office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and ... the special representative, Cambodia showed that it is not sincere in its pledges to the Paris Peace Agreements," he said in an interview with the Post last month.

International obligations aside, he said that having a neutral voice could help push forward human rights issues in Cambodia.

"The Cambodian nation can swing like a pendulum from one extreme to another," he said.

"A third party can help restrain us."



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