THE LEAD foreign group judging the Cambodian election quashed the first report from
its own observers at a meeting June 29 because it was "too political and based
too much on human rights," according to documents obtained by the Post.
The Joint International Observation Group (JIOG) also decided that was not the correct
forum - at that time - to discuss electoral problems such as widespread intimidation
with Cambodian authorities.
JIOG demanded the report be rewritten to contain "only technical data",
the documents reveal, and also that all future observers' reports be purely technical.
The problem, according to some of those involved, was procedural.
Foreign ambassadors who sit on the JIOG were surprised to be given suggestions to
talk with the government when all they thought they were going to get was a technical
report. The foreign ambassadors prompted the rewrite, sources said, adding that French
Ambassador Gildas Le Lidec was particularly critical.
JIOG - a grouping of 34 foreign observer missions - will make what should amount
to the most comprehensive foreign judgment of the election. Its members include the
heads of the European Union (EU), ASEAN and bilateral observer missions.
The eight-page report, presented to JIOG by the UN Electoral Assistance Secretariat
(EAS) - the body coordinating the observation missions - was written by 56 observers
from the United States, Australia, Canada and the EU. It also contained information
from teams working with the UN secretary-general's special representative and the
UN Center for Human Rights.
The Post has obtained copies of the report and minutes of the JIOG meeting.
The report was "innocuous enough... with little more [information] that you
could get from the Post, The Cambodia Daily and the wires," said one source.
It was also highly critical of Second Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's
The observers' report blamed CPP officials for intimidating voters and opposition
parties and stacking electoral commissions - issues that affected voters' perception
of ballot secrecy.
It also contained information on voter education, access to media, freedom of speech
and assembly and technical preparation for the polls. The report suggested that JIOG:
ï "might wish to express its concern to the National Election Committee (NEC)"
about intimidation that threatens the perception of ballot secrecy;
- "might consider" asking the NEC to broadcast on radio that the ballot
is secret and that it is against the law for anyone to try to find out how a person
- "might consider requesting" that the NEC tell broadcasters to ensure
fair media access for all parties;
- "might wish to ascertain from the NEC whether elections can be held technically
on July 26" or not.
Witnesses say that Ambassador Le Lidec "exploded" after glancing through
the report and began arguing that the EAS had no right to include information from
Le Lidec and US Ambassador Kenneth Quinn said that it was not the observers' job
to suggest recommendations the JIOG might make to the government.
The minutes of the meeting leaked to the Post describe the scene: "Some delegations
expressed surprise at such a report and felt that it was not in the EAS mandate to
provide political analysis of the electoral process. The content of the report was
too political and based too much on human rights issues. Other delegations felt that
information sharing was important."
The report was finally quashed and JIOG decided:
- not to discuss problems with the NEC or the government before the election;
- and to modify future observer reports to contain "only technical data... for
internal information sharing".
Critics say that an election is by definition both "political" and a "human
right", and are baffled how JIOG will be able to judge the process by insisting
its observers furnish it only with technical data.
Sources told the Post that because the minutes of the meeting were later disapproved
by JIOG as inaccurate and misleading, a decision was made not to take any minutes
of future meetings. Instead there will only be a chairman's summary.
Although EU observer chief Sven Linder is also chairman of the JIOG, he was not present
at the meeting to chair the debate.
The EAS report has been re-written and circulated to JIOG members. It now carries
no suggestions or recommendations, nor does it include any information from UN rights
teams - information that the June 29 JIOG meeting strongly objected to.
One source said the new report was "bland", although it still contained
some critique of human rights issues "because even JIOG observers can't help
but notice and report what's going on".
JIOG has a UN mandate to make "private démarches" to the NEC and the
Cambodian government to help give "a collective assessment" of the electoral
process, including recommendations on how it could be improved.
The UN mandate also allows JIOG to go public with its findings. JIOG has decided
to make one public statement before polling day and a final one after, thereby honoring
its UN mandate, but critics are not satisfied.
They say JIOG was wrong to have ditched the option to talk to the NEC and the government,
and that it was a decision its ambassador members should not have been allowed to
One UN official, who would not be named, said JIOG had proved itself flawed. "Does
it think things are so good here that it doesn't need to talk to the government?"
he said. "Has it found nothing it wants to bring up with the NEC?"
A senior donor official indicated to the Post that because of the "fluid"
nature of JIOG's membership it could at any time decide to ignore the June 29 decision
and go ahead with representations to the Cambodian government.
Some sources said that Le Lidec, Quinn and other ambassadors such as George Edgar
(UK) - who had all been invited to attend JIOG meetings - had been put in a situation
where they could not accept the report, as representatives of their governments,
The ambassadors were only attending JIOG because the chiefs of their countries' short-term
observer missions had not yet arrived in Cambodia, said one source.
He said that if JIOG's "temporary" ambassadorial members had acted on the
report's recommendations it would have been "a sure way" of tainting the
Ambassadors could best make government representations through a group like "Friends
of Cambodia", not JIOG, he said. When chiefs of observer missions arrived to
take up JIOG positions instead of their ambassadors "then the JIOG can make
all the démarches to the government it wants," he said.
A spokesman for the US Embassy said that Quinn already made a similar point at the
Another source said that "if [it is being implied] that the JIOG is not concerned
about human rights then that's wrong. It certainly is [concerned]. The decisions
were just a procedural thing".
But one critic privy to the meeting said that Le Lidec, Quinn and Edgar, among others,
should have excused themselves from the meeting once they saw the report and felt
that they were compromised to accept it. Instead, Le Lidec began arguing and driving
decisions on behalf of JIOG that, under new membership, the group may later have
The United States is now only nominally part of the group. On July 9 it announced
it would not be associated with JIOG's judgment of the election. Diplomats say the
US - which from Washington at least has been a critic of Cambodia's political climate
over the past year - is worried that JIOG's statement has been predetermined as favorable,
and that the US wants the right to make its own call.
The results of JIOG's June 29 meeting may only strengthen that perception, say critics.