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UN rights office and government sign pact

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As expected, the government has extended by two years its agreement with the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights for it to have a presence here, the rights body announced late on Friday.

Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post
Former Representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia.

The government and OHCHR signed “a memorandum of understanding extending the technical cooperation program for human rights in the country by both parties for another two years”, OHCHR said in a press release.

Early last year, there had been some speculation that the government would not renew its MoU with the rights body. This followed calls the previous year from Prime Minister Hun Sen that it be shut and its then country representative, Christophe Peschoux, be expelled for “acting as a spokesman for the opposition”.

Peschoux left Cambodia last May, saying his departure was voluntary.

The MoU expired on December 31. The new one took effect on January 1, the press release said.

It did not say whether there had been any changes in its terms, and UN staff have been tight lipped when asked about possible changes to them.

Ek Tha, spokesman for the Council of Ministers and deputy director of its press department, said the new MoU reaffirmed that the government “respects human rights” and “follows the path of democracy”.

“This extension of two years sends a very positive message to the international community, including the stakeholders and foreign investors that we are a democratic government,” he said.

Although there had been some “misunderstanding” with NGOs critical of the government in the past, Cambodia is “a haven, a paradise for NGOs”, he added. “We regard them as friends, not foes,” he stressed.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said negotiations over the MoU lasted more than six months. Although he had not seen the new one he was confident it had not been watered down. “I’m pretty sure [staff at the rights office] would not accept the MoU unless it allowed them to do their jobs,” he said.

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