JUSTICE Michael Kirby was ignored by the two Prime Ministers during his seventh and
final mission here last week as the UN special representative for human rights. Kirby
said that it had been an entire year since Hun Sen last agreed to talk to him.
The Australian judge - whose tenure has been widely seen by human rights advocates
as fair and dogged, though cautious - called the leaders' snub "unfortunate."
However, he said it hadn't stopped him from doing his job.
He ranked this continued high-level snub as one of his "top 10" list of
problems he had reported on and rallied against in Cambodia. Kirby also told journalists
about his "top 10" list of advances that Cambodia had made in the field
of human rights.
He said that work in public health had improved "60 percent", though Cambodians
still had to "sacrifice modesty" in the interest of further AIDS education.
He pegged the increase in the education standards at eight percent, musing about
the need for human rights in schools' curricula.
Kirby praised the enshrining in law of protection for Angkor Wat; the increase in
active women's groups; and the further moves toward a civil society which led him
to see more economic development in each of his visits. Kirby's "top 10"
also included the fact that no journalists had yet been imprisoned under the new
Press Law, and that forests were being protected under a government ban, though there
had been "exceptions." He praised the King's and local human rights groups'
initiatives in the rights area as "an inspiration."
Kirby's concerns - which have consistently angered the government, spotlighting it
on a world stage to the point where it wanted the UN Center for Human Rights to leave
Cambodia - included the rough treatment being handed out to Khmer National Party
leader Sam Rainsy.
Political parties were constantly blocked; the electronic media was neither independent
nor open; and the government didn't "respect fully the privileges of the National
Assembly." Domestic violence was being widely dismissed; minorities had to be
better protected; and the environment was "fragile and vulnerable" and
still not well protected by laws.
Kirby said corruption was worrying, as was the state of prison conditions and the
continued non-appointment of a Supreme Constitutional Council.
Kirby continued talking about the problems of Cambodian rights before being interrupted
mid-speech by the urgent whisperings of UNCHR director Daniel Premont. "The
director of my office has remined me of some of the many positive moves the government
has made..." Kirby resumed.
In a Weekend Australian article of Jan 21, Kirby was quoted as saying: "There
are some UN people who are too starry-eyed, they are intolerable of any suggestion
that this, their greatest triumph, the one pure exercise of peacekeeping, constitutional
government and human rights, has failed."
Kirby said however that the problems he faced in Cambodia were much less than those
faced by his peers in other countries - specifically mentioning Afghanistan and Sudan.
Despite Cambodian leaders' attitudes toward him which many observers say approach
that of loathing, Kirby only gave up his job because he was appointed last month
to the Australian Federal Supreme Court.
Kirby is likely to include in his latest report to Geneva a recommendation that the
next special representative must continue to be pro-active and relatively outspoken.
Some sources worry that Kirby's resignation will lead to an opposite character being
chosen in the interests of harmony - if one is chosen at all.
Kirby said that a "change of personality" may "provide an opportunity
to reopen a dialogue" with the government.