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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - PM scoffs at impunity charge

PM scoffs at impunity charge

Impunity: exemption or freedom from punishment, harm or loss. (Webster's

Dictonary).

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

community.

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

the job.

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"

justice.

"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

up recently.

"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.

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