Impunity: exemption or freedom from punishment, harm or loss. (Webster's
Prime Minister Hun Sen told a visiting United Nations human rights observer that
impunity doesn't exist in Cambodia, and that he continues to see the UN special representative
as a "prosecutor" opposed to the economic development of the country. Peter
Leuprecht, special representative to the UN Secretary General on human rights in
Cambodia, concluded his 11th visit on November 14 after meeting with King Norodom
Sihamoni, politicians, diplomats, donors, NGOs, trade unionists and members of the
His assessment of Cambodia's human rights situation was wide-ranging and grim.
"Where there is progress I try to show it ... but the trouble is that the basic
issues that plague Cambodian society-poverty, violence, corruption and lawlessness-there're
still here," said Leuprecht.
"On impunity, the Prime Minister seems to say that it doesn't exist," Leuprecht
told the Post. "But of course it does exist and I don't think you solve any
problem by saying the problem doesn't exist."
"I believe that we have to look at impunity as a system related to the structures
of power in the country," he said later at a press conference.
Earlier this year, Leuprecht wrote to senior ministers asking for further investigation
of 178 cases of serious human rights breaches that were not properly followed up,
including the slaying of trade union leader Chea Vichea in January.
"Hok Lundy [chief of national police] told me that in this case investigation
continues," said Leuprecht.
A document recently released by Lundy responding to the UN's list of 178 cases is
currently being translated from Khmer.
He said that the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions has lodged an official
complaint with the International Labor Organization over Vichea's assassination.
Leuprecht was impressed by King Norodom Sihamoni, describing him as being very aware
of human rights and encouraging the UN's work.
In contrast, Leuprecht said his talk with Hun Sen was not "one of the most constructive
meetings" they have held, with the PM still seeing the UN special representative
as a "prosecutor", a label he first used in 2000 when Leuprecht started
When the subject of Leuprecht's criticism of the Tum Ring rubber plantation in Kampong
Cham arose, the two had " a little argument" and the PM accused Leuprecht
of being "against development".
"I said to him no, I'm certainly-on the contrary-in favor of development, but
development must be human development and it must be sustainable."
The Austrian-born law professor said that certain members of the government were
growing uneasy at a rising tide of civil unrest caused by poverty and injustice,
noting the protest over the Pheapimex concession in Pursat as an example of communities
standing up to persecution.
As the Consultative Group meeting between donors and the government approaches, Leuprecht
called for better coordination amongst donors but said the government had a responsibility
to live up to what they promise the international community.
"I think the donors should be serious when they fix benchmarks, and once they
fix the benchmarks, the most normal thing is to check whether it has been met,"
he said. "On the other hand, I tell the government it must understand that donors
want to see results when they pour this money into Cambodia."
Leuprecht was "confident" that the international community would fund a
Khmer Rouge Trial and he had urged diplomats and donors to support a "long overdue"
"The international community has a very heavy responsibility with regards to
Cambodia, partly [and] not least because of past failures. When you look at it nowadays
... the deafening silence of the international community [during the Khmer Rouge's
rule] at the time is just an absolute scandal."
He also had a blunt message for Kofi Annan on the selection of non-Cambodian judges
for the KR trial, in which successful convictions will rest upon the agreement of
a 'super-majority' of four out of five judges in the Supreme Court Chamber or five
out of seven at appeal.
"He's not allowed to make a single mistake when it comes to the international
judges," said Leuprecht.
The controversy over Vietnamese Montagnards fleeing to Cambodia has been a challenge
to the UN-Cambodia relationship this year, said Leuprecht, but said the restrictions
caused by "massive pressure from the Vietnamese government" have eased
"The new problem now, of course, is the fact that some of the people who are
coming over say they do not want to go to the United States," he said. "I
find that interesting, because previously some people have been saying these are
not real refugees, only people who want to get to the United States."
Leuprecht's full report to the Secretary General will be released in April 2005.