United Nations human rights envoy Surya Subedi was ambushed last night by what appeared to be a co-ordinated student group while delivering a public lecture, raising suspicions that it was a political stunt.
Professor Subedi, who was delivering a lecture on international investment law at Cambodian Mekong University, had completed his lecture and was taking questions when the ruckus began.
Six students took to the microphone, all questioning the right of Subedi to report on Cambodia, with many students also questioning his impartiality and agenda – all to raucous applause from the packed house of university students.
“What the hell are you doing to Cambodia?” one particularly energised young man asked. “Will you lose your job if you say Cambodia’s human rights situation is good?”
“Your result [in your report] is the same as the opposition party. I don’t have any questions for you because I am very disappointed in you,” said another student.
Subedi responded to the students’ questions after they had all spoken, saying he was impressed by their “courage”.
“My reports on human rights are based on my analysis of the situation here. I listen to people from all walks of life. As a friend of Cambodia, I am offering my advice on how to improve the situation of governance in this country,” he said, adding that the UN does not “impose its will on anybody”.
“You will thank me in 20 years’ time. You are young now and you have a young sentiment. I salute it; I appreciate it,” he told the crowd. Following Professor Subedi’s response, University Chancellor Ich Seng was delivering the closing remarks when a group of students gathered at the hall’s entrance and unfurled banners calling for the elimination of the UN Special Rapporteur position.
A number of students seated around the hall then pulled out similar hand-drawn signs from underneath their tables and began chanting “No more Surya Subedi” in English.
The students then assembled outside the entrance, continuing their chanting and refusing to budge despite the requests of university staff.
The protesters refused to comment, although one told the Post they were members of a political student group.
A local NGO worker, who wished to remain nameless, said she recognised some protestors as members of the CPP Youth.
Some of the students assembled also questioned the protesters’ political motivation. “I think they are from the government youth . . . if they want to protest against Mr Subedi like this . . . and they want him to go out of the country, then I think they are supporters of the government,” 24-year-old Sokha told the Post.
However, a female student who was one of the six to launch a tirade during question time, insisted that she was not a member of a political party and came to the lecture of her own volition.
“I can say what my heart feels. I can say something that I know,” 21-year-old Hun Youn said.
Others who attended the lecture simply expressed their surprise at what had happened. “I did not expect this, and I think it’s not good because I support the special rapporteur. He is very good for Cambodia,” Narith, 30, said.
While Un Nay, 23, a member of staff at the university, said that although he did not expect the protest he supported the students’ right to do so. “If the action is effective for [Subedi] to hear it or for other people to hear it, it is good,” he said.
Gaye Valerie Salacup, head of the university’s international office, said the event was “not the venue” for students to voice their anger towards Subedi.
Subedi himself remained calm in the face of the protests, giving the Post a philosophical response as he exited the building: “It was not surprising for me. They are learning and it is a process of learning. It will continue.”
Additional reporting by Sarah Thust