British academic Rhona Smith has officially replaced Nepalese law professor Surya Subedi as the United Nations’ special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia.
Smith, 45, an international human rights law professor at the University of Northumbria in England and a visiting professor at Cambodia’s Pannasastra University, was officially appointed to the role on Friday at the closing of the 28th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
She is the sixth person to occupy the position since 1993 but the first woman to take up the role.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said he has high hopes of a productive partnership with the new envoy, as long as she brings “positive thinking and acting, not negativity” to the role.
“In the past they haven’t understood much about our way of life.… We don’t want teachers, we want partners”, he said.
Siphan said he was particularly pleased that a woman had been appointed to the position.
“We love women as a partner to make things better. Nature gives her the ability to be patient as a partner,” he said. “My mother always taught me with a positive approach”.
But independent analyst Ou Virak dismissed the emphasis on her gender. “Why should it have anything to do with her being a woman?” he said.
Virak added that a constructive relationship between the rapporteur and the government could emerge from the “changing political landscape”.