D ESPITE threats of more National Assembly expulsions, the passing of the press
law and prosecutions of journalists and political campaigners, the UN's top
Cambodian human rights observer is loathe to identify a trend.
it's better to concentrate on the facts rather than give general impressions,"
Michael Kirby, the UN Secretary-General's Representative on Human Rights in
Cambodia, said Aug 15.
Kirby several times declined to offer an opinion
on whether recent events indicated Cambodia was growing more
When pressed, he said: "If you're asking for an impression,
I can tell you.
"My impression when I arrive here is that Phnom Penh is a
cleaner place, it's had lots of coats of paint, the buildings are being
renovated, there are lots more commercial enterprises and businesses, and the
public areas have been tidied up and one can get a sense that there is in Phnom
Penh a much more vigorous economy at work.
"It will be important to
spread that development to the other towns and rural areas."
also visited Kep, Kampot and Kompong Cham on his visit, said building an
economic infrastructure was a crucial ingredient in securing human
Speaking at a press conference at the end of his sixth visit to
Cambodia, Kirby said he had heard both good news and "some troubling news" on
On the positive side, there was Phnom Penh's economic upturn,
the "wonderful" work done by NGOs and UN agencies, and the fact that the press
continued to flourish in Cambodia.
Though there were some concerns about
the new press law, "I'm glad to say that during this year no journalist has been
killed and, although some journalists have been and are to be before the courts,
no journalist is in prison at this moment that I am in Cambodia.
one looks at this whole picture, there is much from which one can derive
satisfaction... Against a background of historical difficulty which is almost
unparalleled in the world, Cambodia is making important achievements, including
in the area of human rights."
On the other hand, Kirby acknowledged
concerns about a number of issues, including: Sam Rainsy's expulsion as an MP;
attempts to expel BLDP MPs; judicial independence; the arrests of six men for
releasing balloons with political messages tied to them; and the apparent
freedom of military and government officials to commit crimes with
He would not answer questions about the BLDP MPs, saying: "I
don't want to say anything which in the slightest way will disturb what I hope
will be discussions which will ensure that the National Assembly continues to
function... in a condition of a multi-party democracy."
declined to answer questions about the "balloon six" arrested for distributing
political leaflets, except to say their actions appeared to be protected by
their constitutional right to freedom of expression.
he had sought - but been declined - meetings with the co-Prime Ministers during
his 12-day visit. Second PM Hun Sen had been in Singapore, he said, while First
PM Prince Norodom Ranariddh had been busy with other commitments.
if he was disappointed, he said: "I'm always disappointed when I don't see the
two Prime Ministers or either one of them because I have to say that seeing the
First Prime Minister is always a very interesting and exciting experience and
seeing the Second Prime Minister is always a very good insight into the problems
of this country."
He added that Hun Sen had at previous meetings with him
made perceptive comments about Cambodia's difficulties.
disputed he had been given the "cold shoulder by Cambodia" on his latest visit,
saying he had met with Foreign Minister Ung Huot, Justice Minister Chem Snguon,
Interior Minister Sar Kheng, National Assembly chairman Chea Sim and King