The UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia, Thomas
Ham-marberg, is currently preparing a report to be presented to the UN Human Rights
Commission in March. The Post's Elizabeth Moorthy and Eric Pape spoke
to him about what that report will likely say.
Phnom Penh Post: At the end of your last visit, you said there would be consequences
if the government had not made substantial progress in investigating the March 30
grenade attack or the large number of executions since early July. What are they,
and did [High Commissioner for Human Rights] Mary Robinson's meetings with the government
affect those consequences?
Thomas Hammarberg: What she got from them is that investigations will be made,
that they will be serious, no one will be spared. The sad truth is that there has
been no commission of inquiry established, no serious criminal investigation made,
and of course no prosecution brought forwards, and this is half a year after the
events. The sad thing with that delay is that there's a risk that evidence will disappear
and, of course, we will have to report that to the world community... I've already
told the Secretary-General [in early January] that there has been no reply on my
request for a report on the progress in the investigation. I just would like to repeat
that the General Assembly adopted a resolution in November which underlined the importance
of the investigation.
What can the UN do if Cambodia continues to be uncooperative?
Well, the United Nations represents the governments of the world, and these governments
have relations with Cambodia. Of course this is a negative element in the relations
between outside governments and the government of Cambodia. It can't be helped that
the donor community will consider this when they decide on future cooperation with
Hun Sen claimed once again that the UN Center's report on the July executions
is shoddy, and he paraded four people in front of Mary Robinson whom he said were
listed as executed or missing in the report. How do you respond?
Okay, let's go to the facts. I have a letter here [dated Jan 27] from the two
prime ministers to the Secretary-General. They have already withdrawn one name: this
fourth person wasn't mentioned anywhere in the report, so that takes care of that.
Two others who were paraded are listed in our report as missing... We have more names
than they do of people who have resurfaced, and of course we welcome that, but this
is no [sign] that something was wrong with the report.... The fourth case... was
just a spelling error... we should have written Chao Kong, but we wrote Chao Keang...
The age was right, and the rest of the description of him was right. It so happens
that those two who were killed have a brother whose name is Chao Keang... I must
say that I think it is surprising that a Prime Minister is parading a person whose
two brothers were killed as evidence that the report about these killings was wrong.
So the whole thing about the four people he said were reported dead by us amounted
to one name being partly wrong... So all 41 people we had said were killed are still
dead, unfortunately, and no investigation has even started on a serious level. That's
the sad truth.
What does it say about Hun Sen that when he had an opportunity to show the UN
positive signs of an investigation, he instead used those people in a confrontational
Didn't he do this when you saw him before?
Now I think I can disclose that when I saw him in September the same approach
was prepared, and he paraded into the room a number of people in uniform... whom
he introduced as having been reported as killed. The suggestion was that we had reported
them as killed. I managed in that conversation to prove to him that none of them
had been reported as dead by us. In fact, towards the end of the discussion, he admitted
that our report was constructive in the sense that it dispelled rumors and misunderstandings
about the number of those killed.
Do you think you were excluded from the Robinson-Hun Sen meeting since you knew
the report inside and out, and perhaps might have caught the mistakes?
I would have corrected his mistakes on the spot because I knew the report. It
was unfortunate that [Hun Sen] didn't invite me; we could have turned the discussion
along more constructive routes instead of this public mudslinging.
Can you explain why you were excluded from that meeting?
I don't know why. It was [Hun Sen's] suggestion.
Regarding UN immunity issues, was the Chao Sokhon case really not discussed?
It was not brought up... [after the two Prime Ministers wrote a letter of complaint
to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Mary Robinson on the issue] the Secretary-General
decided to authorize me to investigate... so I will do that and report to him, and
the Prime Ministers will have their response... [Robinson] didn't raise it and in
fact neither Ung Huot nor Hun Sen raised it with her, which was a bit surprising
since they had sent her a letter just a few days beforehand.
What were some of the positive and negative sides of Mary Robinson's visit?
First of all, I'm a great fan of hers, I think she's a great person. She brings
principles into the work of human rights, which is important... I think she made
clear that the UN is prepared to cooperate with Cambodia... [she and the government]
agreed that the office would continue its work... She was extremely happy when she
went off, she said this has been quite something for her.
Do you have any constructive criticism of her visit?
I think she did the right thing because she has another mandate than I... if she
had gone into the issues I discuss in detail then she would have taken over my job,
and she didn't want to do that... the important thing was that she made so clear
that she stands behind me... Her 100% support for me and my work here was valuable,
especially during a visit when the Second Prime Minister seemed to have doubts...
So if, and I'm not certain, but if there was an attempt to create a divide between
the two of us, it did not succeed and wouldn't have succeeded.
So Mary Robinson got assurances the Center would remain open, but for how long?
We have proposed two years... The assistance program [which includes police and
military training, a judicial mentor program, and assistance to local NGOs] is a
two-year program, it runs out on 9 March. What we proposed now is a new program for
the coming two years and they have agreed to that. Implicitly, of course, it means
that the office has to stay at least two years because otherwise there would be no-one
to handle the program.
Isn't it possible the government could set conditions on the Center, such as only
allowing it to do training activities and not investigations?
They could propose anything, but there are two parties to this, of course. The
position of the UN is that when it comes to field offices there needs to be a combination
of assistance and monitoring. Monitoring is not an extra thing, it is integrated
into the work of the UN. How can you design a good assistance program if you don't
know the situation?
But the government might not see it that way.
No, but that is the position of the UN. I think everyone, on reflection, would
find it's a good combination... I feel confident about this now.
Despite the positive spirit of Mary Robinson, human rights violations and issues
appear to have been flaring in recent weeks. Have you noticed a worsening of the
There are problems. I do receive reports about intimidation against people of
other political opinions from the provinces, and I also got some reports recently
of human rights workers from the NGOs feeling worried about being observed and intimidated
by, mainly, the military... What I want is that there will be decisive steps from
the government to see to it that in every commune there is a freedom of discussion,
and tolerance and generosity from those in power positions today to allow people
to compete for power. That's what elections are about.
Is there a point where the international community can decide there is not enough
time left for the elections to be free and fair?
The international community has decided that it would like the elections to take
place and it has decided that if nothing negative occurs, they will fund the elections
throughout from now until the very end of the elections. I think it's very important
not to interpret this to mean that there would be no concern about whether they will
be free and fair. In fact all these millions of dollars produced will be coming from
taxpayers' money... The governments will be very keen to prove to their electorates
that this is not wasted money. I think the consequences will have to be increased
monitoring and an even more clear definition of how you define free and fair elections.
The media situation is one. Today the parties do not have equal access to the media.
I have had a discussion with [Information Ministry Secretary of State] Khieu Kanharith
about this and he promises steps now that would make a reality of that. He does admit
that it's not fair today, which is positive... I hope the pledges will be lived up
to... We have an election committee, and it's very unfortunate that one of the seats
there was assigned after an election which, according to many testimonies I've heard,
was a result of vote-buying, which is a bad sign... Then you have the question of
impunity. There is a need for a sign from the present government that they take seriously
the acts of political violence which have taken place in recent years. If they don't,
I feel that people will not dare to be active in demonstrations and politically,
and that is absolutely crucial for free and fair elections. It's not only a question
of July, there's also an importance of moving decisively on 30 March. Hok Lundy,
who is the chair of the commission into [30 March], promised to reinvite the FBI.
I haven't got any report that this actually has happened yet... the fact that there
have not been firm actions on the politically motivated murders which have taken
place have given a very negative signal to the society... I am very sad, but I have
already reported I am not convinced that authorities have really tried thoroughly
to investigate these.
What about the UN expert who has been proposed to help with investigation into
the July killings, do you really believe the government will cooperate with whoever
They have said so, we will see. The truth is in the eating of the pudding, as
the English say. We'll see. We want to identify a real expert... this whole operation
assumes now that the government will very soon establish a serious commission to
go into these cases, otherwise this will not be meaningful.
How long do you expect to remain in your position?
I have no plans to leave or resign... I'll definitely come back in April but I
will probably come one time before that. I will now have to begin to travel much
more in the provinces, to see more of what happens there.
Can you, personally, still work effectively in Cambodia, given that you were effectively
frozen out by Hun Sen this time?
Our relationship has been a bit up and down throughout the period I've been here.
My work is not to be applauded by leading government persons, but to represent the
UN. If he is wise, he would try to reestablish a dialogue. I think Cambodia needs
a continuation of a rights dialogue. It would be good for the respect of the government
internationally if he did that.
Do you think he will?
He would be wise if he did.