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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - UNCHR renewed for two more years

UNCHR renewed for two more years

U NITED Nations human rights staff are to remain in Cambodia for two more years, following

a visit by a senior UN representative who met with a host of Cambodian officials

- excluding the Second Prime Minister.

Geneva-based UN High Commissioner for Human Rights José Ayala Lasso said he

had been "under the impression" that Hun Sen would be able to meet him

but in the end he had been "unable" to.

Lasso took exception to journalists' suggestions that Hun Sen had 'canceled' their

meeting, but refused to explain why the pair could not meet.

But Lasso, during a five-day visit to Phnom Penh ending Mar 2, did meet with National

Assembly chairman Chea Sim, First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Foreign

Minister Ung Huot, Interior Ministers Sar Kheng and You Hockry and other officials.

Lasso, speaking at a press conference, said: "I came to visit the government,

I did visit the government, and I am entirely satisfied."

Of Hun Sen, Lasso said: "Of course I would have liked to have more meetings."

Lasso signed a memorandum of understanding with Ung Huot for the UN Center for Human

Rights (UNCHR), whose mandate in Cambodia expired this month, to remain for two more


The move soothed fears that the government would insist on the departure of the UNCHR,

following the co-Prime Ministers' letter to the UN a year ago asking that the center

be "phased out".

Lasso said the memorandum of understanding was a "bona fide agreement"

which allowed the UNCHR in Cambodia - the second-largest UN human rights presence

in the world, after Rwanda - to keep operating without conditions.

He praised the "excellent cooperation of the government" with the UNCHR

in the past, and said the new agreement would strengthen that relationship.

The High Commissioner expressed concern about human rights abuses such as arbitrary

detention and torture in Cambodia, but said these were "isolated" cases

and not government policy.

Lasso said he had raised with the government the recent trial of Prince Norodom Sirivudh

and the banning of Sam Rainsy's Khmer Nation Party. But, in response to journalists'

questions, he evaded offering opinions on these particular issues.

On Sirivudh, he said: "I think that a country that is going to be internationally

respected needs to follow the rule of law. I hope that the due process will be put

into practice."

Reluctant to say much, Lasso eventually agreed with the suggestion that he had yet

to be convinced that Sirivudh had been convicted in accordance with international

legal standards.

In reference to a possible appeal by Sirivudh, he said: "The trial's not over

yet, so let's think about that point...I think you and I want the same result...let's

not jeopardize that."

Lasso said he considered it the role of NGOs to "investigate" and "denounce"

human rights abuses. The UNCHR's job was to establish a "permanent dialogue"

with the government, to "complement", not "duplicate", the work

of NGOs.

Lasso said he had, in talks with the government, "mentioned in a general way

that it was necessary to have a law that will strengthen the multi-party democracy."

When pressed on the Khmer Nation Party, he said: "I hope that if there is no

law banning the party, there will be no banning of the party."

Lasso said that, in his talks with Ranariddh, the Prime Minister had expressed the

belief that "democracy and development should go together". Ranariddh had

also given assurances that no journalists would be prosecuted for insulting the government.

Government officials had accepted the need to have a replacement appointed for Australian

Judge Michael Kirby, who recently resigned as the UN Secretary-General's human rights

representative to Cambodia, Lasso said.

Ung Huot said this week that relations between the UNCHR and the government were

better than a year ago. UNCHR staff now "understand very well that their job

is to cooperate, educate, assist us and so on," he said.

The UNCHR's role - and particularly whether it should concentrate on human rights'

education and "technical assistance", versus the documentation of human

rights abuses - has been a bone of contention for some time.



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