Rude, ill informed, unwelcome in Cambodia some of the epithets Prime Minister
Hun Sen has used in recent speeches to describe the United Nations new Special
Representative for Human Rights, Professor Yash Ghai.
But Hun Sen's
highly personal attacks on Ghai and UNCHR staff in Cambodia have been met with a
carefully considered silence.
"I have now decided that no useful purpose
will be served by further comments from me," Ghai told the Post in an email on
the April 4.
The relationship between the Cambodian government and the
UN Special Representative and the UN Office for Human Rights has always been
antagonistic. Since 1993 and the end of UNTAC, there have been four special
representatives - an Australian, a Swede, an Austrian and a Kenyan. Hun Sen has
attacked each of them in turn said Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch Asia Director.
"Each arrived with impeccable credentials and reputations," he said.
"Each was clearly independent of any government. And each looked at Cambodia
with his own eyes and reported what he saw, which when it comes to human rights
is not very pretty.
"In each case instead of working with him to address
the problems, Hun Sen has lashed out in very personal and vitriolic terms. Hun
Sen and his team have suggested that each was biased. This is nonsense. What
interest would any of these men have in reporting inaccurately on the situation
Hun Sen's attack on Ghai is part of a broader pattern of
antagonism, Adams said.
"Hun Sen has always opposed the presence of the
UN human rights office," he said.
In 1995 he and Prince Norodom
Ranariddh formally asked for the office to be closed, but donors and the UN said
no. Maintaining a UN human rights office and Special Representative in Cambodia
is essential, Adams said, for three key reasons, which underscored the UN's
refusal to withdraw the office in 1995 and are still valid today.
"First, the underlying human rights situation remains quite poor," Adams
"Second, there is little doubt that once the UN is out, Hun Sen
would start targeting civil society in much tougher ways than even last year,
shutting down critical NGOs and imprisoning activists. He and others in the
government still do not believe in pluralism, which is what civil society
"Finally, the smart diplomats - and in 1995 this included
France, Japan, Australia and the United States - realized they were doing Hun
Sen a favor by keeping the UN human rights presence. Hun Sen is prone to
excesses, as with the 1997 coup. He needs institutions to restrain him. There
are few, if any, Cambodian institutions that can do this. But the UN human
rights office, backed by the international community, can play this role in a
The verbal attacks on Ghai came hot on the heels of the
successful conclusion of the 2006 Consultative Group (CG) meeting at which
donors pledged $601 million to the Cambodian Government. The timing was not
coincidental, Adams said.
"I don't think there is any chance that Hun
Sen would have responded the same way before the CG meeting," he
"He was in real trouble with donors and a lot of money was at
stake. His actions over the previous year - arresting so many activists and
forcing Sam Rainsy into exile - violated every promise he had made to donors
about pluralism, support for civil society, and the rule of law.
the commitments the government had made on reform, none in the area of human
rights, corruption, good governance, or the rule of law had been met. So he took
a tactical step back. But thus far there hasn't been any real
Despite the lack of concrete developments, the tactical step
back served to reassure donors that all was well, Adams said.
again, as they seem to do every year, the donors accepted a charade. Either
consciously or unconsciously, they made Hun Sen's public relations exercise a
Ghai himself lambasted what he perceived as donor complicity in
Cambodia's worsening human rights record in the comments concluding his mission.
He argued that if donor agencies condone rights violations in the name of
forging strong links with the Cambodian government, they betray their own
citizens as well as Cambodians.
"If indeed it is true that donor agencies
are not very mindful of human rights or democracy, but just wish to build a cosy
relationship with the government, then it seems to me that they are not only
failing the people of Cambodia but their own domestic taxpayers as well, who
approve these grants in the expectation that the poor people of these countries
will be the beneficiaries," Ghai said on March 28.
His criticisms of the
donor community found strong support from the Asian Human Rights Centre (AHRC)
and other members of the donor community who have long been calling for stronger
conditions to be imposed on aid.
"The AHRC has referred to the connivance
of the donor community [as a major factor] in preventing genuine democracy and
human rights from taking root in Cambodia through its unwillingness to impose
aid conditionality," a press release issued on March 30 stated.
too, holds that the donor community cannot escape blame for the deterioration of
human rights in Cambodia.
"Hun Sen has been running circles around the
diplomatic and donor community for many years, and he just did it again," he
"If this were a sport you'd have to admire his skill. But this is
about people's rights and the quality of their lives - $600 million a year is
still a lot of money for Cambodia and largely keeps the government afloat. It's
time to use the leverage that accompanies it wisely."