Despite being willing to offer assistance to ensure that a proposed refugee resettlement scheme between Cambodia and Australia meets international standards, the United Nations knows almost nothing about the proposal that the Cambodian government has been studying for months, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri said yesterday in an interview with the Post.
And without knowing the “specific parameters” of the deal, she added, it’s impossible for the UN to envisage what specific assistance it might provide.
“Let me try to clarify this issue. We know too little about this case or this discussion to know whom exactly are we talking about and what is their status. Are we talking about asylum seekers? Are we talking about persons who have been recognised as refugees? Are we talking about migrant workers?”
Pansieri’s visit – which was scheduled long in advance, according to the UN – has awkwardly coincided with the government saying it has agreed “in principle” to the refugee deal, in addition to reinstating a ban on public assembly in Phnom Penh during International Labour Day and the subnational council election campaign period.
She has avoided criticising the deal because of the lack of information being provided, Pansieri told the Post.
“The UN is not taking a position on a deal on which it doesn’t have enough information about, but is certainly committed to providing technical support to make sure if there is a deal, this deal is fully in compliance with international commitments and standards.”
Should resettlement to Cambodia become a reality, the UN would want to ensure that access to health and education, guarantees of nonrefoulement (not sending refugees back to the place they are seeking refuge from) and employment opportunities, among other things, are adequately provided.
The envoy, the highest-ranking UN rights official to visit Cambodia since 2010, has kept a low profile during her time here, avoiding any firm public criticism of the government thus far, despite numerous protest deaths since last year’s election and several violent government-backed crackdowns.
Pansieri, however, clarified that comments she made earlier this week stating Cambodia was “keen to abide” by its international commitments to human rights – which rang hollow amid yesterday’s crackdown on Labour Day events – were simply based on what Foreign Minister Hor Namhong had told her on Tuesday.
“I was reporting on a meeting and reporting what was discussed in that meeting,” she said.
She also said that the UN had “concerns” about the current ban on demonstrations which she had shared with the government, which told her the ban was only temporary.
She added that both authorities and demonstrators needed to show restraint.
“It’s important that the security forces act with utmost restraint, and it is essential, equally important in fact, that demonstrators also act with restraint and respect for public property,” she said.